Saturday, 28 July 2012

Titchfield Haven Bird Ringing 28th July 2012

After staying up to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games the idea of getting up early to go ringing did not really fill me with enthusiasm, and it would seem that the birds weren't really up for it either since there weren't that many around. 

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler

We had the nets open just before first light as usual, and were greeted with the usual first round dominated with Grasshopper Warblers, but that was about it. Reed and Sedge Warblers were again present in low numbers with only six and nine, captured respectively, and as has been the case recently the majority of the Reed Warblers were adults. We also caught two Song Thrushes, one was a retrap adult, but the other was a recently fledged juvenile, which was nice. Other birds ringed included a couple of Blackcaps, both of which was lighter than the heaviest Grasshopper Warbler, so they need to fatten up before they go anywhere. A few Wrens, and a couple of Robins made up the numbers and just as we were about to furl the nets, three Willow Warblers turned up, one of which was an adult.

By the end of the session we had ringed just under 40 birds of eight species; once again Grasshopper Warbler was the most numerous species, with 11 birds captured, bringing our total to date for the year to 38, a long way down on last year. Interestingly, many of the juvenile birds are showing very obvious fault bars, which presumably is evidence of the struggle parents birds have had feeding chicks this year in all the bad weather we have been having.

Fault Bar on Grasshopper Warbler Tail

We decided to call it a day and headed home, and once there was greeted with a text message reporting a European Bee-eater flying over the Visitors Centre at The Haven, how frustrating was that!!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Turkish Delight 2012 - Day 3

Wednesday 2nd May
The day began with a pre-breakfast visit to the hide overlooking the large lagoon in the Goksu Delta in search of Grey-headed Swamphen, but as we headed out, uncharacteristically for this part of Turkey, the heavens opened. It rained continually whilst there, nonetheless we did manage to see several more White-winged Black Terns, Red-crested Pochard, a brief Little Bittern, several Marsh Harriers and a flock of 10 Glossy Ibis. With not much else to see and certainly no swamphens, we began to scan the scrub, a noisy Black Francolin was quickly picked up and showed very well, but other than a few Red-backed Shrikes and Graceful Prinias, the scrub was very quiet. 

After breakfast we stayed in the Goksu Delta, but headed north of the lagoon in search of Moustached Warbler. By this time the rain had stopped, but the wind had really got up, so not idea conditions for looking for warblers in reed beds. However, we persevered and as we worked our way through the arable fields were met with a flock of hundreds of Black-headed Buntings, swarming across the fields like a cloud of locusts, they were everywhere. Birding was difficult due to the wind and birds were staying very low in the reeds, but eventually we were able to get some good views of a Moustached Warbler as it chased off a pair of Graceful Prinias.  Whilst continuing to bird the area two flocks of Ruff, totalling around 80 birds, a single Hobby passed overhead and more White-winged Black Terns continued to patrol the reed edge.

Black-headed Bunting

Frustrated by the windy conditions and with birds proving difficult to see, we headed north to the old Roman remains at Diocaesarea. Our first stop en route was the graveyard at Demicili; the conditions were still breezy and rain was threatening, nonetheless we pressed on with our walk through the woods and to the viewpoint. Unfortunately the breezy conditions worked against us, we could hear a singing Rüppell’s Warbler but didn’t see it, and other than a couple of Blackbirds and a Short-toed Eagle there wasn’t much else to report. We continued on up the valley to the village of Imamali, where we stopped on the side of the road. Highlights in this area included a singing male Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, a male Blue Rock Thrush, and a Syrian Woodpecker. Western Rock Nuthatches were busy putting the finishing touches to their mud nests and Sombre, Coal, Great and Blue Tits were all recorded. Frustratingly though, we heard more singing Rüppell’s Warblers but they were proving to be extremely elusive, with one giving only brief views.

Black-eared Wheatear
Our next stop was a lunch time break at Uzuncaburch picnic site, which is a reliable site for Krüper’s Nuthatch, and we were not to be disappointed. As soon as we arrived and parked our vehicles a Krüper’s Nuthatch was spotted feeding on the ground. 

Krüper’s Nuthatch

Several birds were recorded in the pine trees but two individuals kept coming back to the same spot giving us all excellent views. Being fairly sheltered from the weather other bird species were soon picked up including more Black-eared Wheatears, Coal Tits, Chaffinchs, Blackcaps and a stunning Masked Shrike, whilst Woodlarks, Cuckoos and Hoopoes were all heard in the distance. 

The Roman ruins at Diocaesarea were our next stop, but by the time we got there it was raining heavily. We decided to go for a walk in the hope that the rain would stop, but with its increasing intensity we headed back to our vehicles; we did manage to see a Hoopoe but that was about it. We decided to head to a lower altitude in the hope of finding drier weather, and stopped just south of the village of Imamali as the sun broke through. This unscheduled stop was well worth it as we were soon rewarded with excellent views of a singing male Rüppell’s Warbler.

Rüppell’s Warbler 

This bird performed so well it was difficult to leave it, but we had to press on...but such a corker!

Rüppell’s Warbler  

Continuing south we stopped at a viewpoint, overlooking the next valley, for another unscheduled stop, which as it happened, proved to be another good choice. Our first bird was another Lesser Grey Shrike in the nearby trees, along with a singing Black-headed Bunting and more Thrush Nightingales. Looking out from the viewpoint a pair of Black-eared Wheatears performed well in the fields below, and three Short-toed Eagles, a Hobby, a Common (Steppe) Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk were immediately visible. But the star birds were three Eleanora’s Falcons, that headed north up the valley, giving excellent views as they passed. With the light now fading we decided to head back down to our Motel, for a well earned rest and the chance to pack in readiness for our onward journey.

To be continued...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Turkish Delight 2012 - Day 1 and 2

It has been a while since my return from Turkey in May 2012, and due to a busy schedule I have been unable to update this blog with details, anyway I hope to have a bit of spare time over the next few weeks, so here goes. For regular readers to the is blog, this trip followed the same itinerary as the trip in 2011, it was an Ornitholidays trip, co-guided by Mitko Petrakiev and me. We started in the Göksu Delta, before moving onto Curkurbag Village in the Taurus Mountains, Gaziantep and finally Birecik. I kept a daily diary and took many pictures so here goes with the first installment!

Monday 30th April
Our trip commenced with an early morning flight from Heathrow’s Terminal 3 to Istanbul in Turkey, followed by an onward connection to the southern Turkish airport of Adana. Unfortunately, due to a 30 minute delay with our flight leaving Heathrow and a further 30 minute delay landing at Istanbul, we missed our onward connection. However, due to some extremely efficient ground staff at Istanbul, and by negotiating our passage through the fast track system at Turkish Immigration, we were swiftly booked onto the next flight to Adana. A further delay with this onward flight meant that by the time we arrived at Adana it was almost dark, and after the three hour drive to Tasuçu there was no time for any birding.

Tuesday 1st May
Our first day was spent around the Göksu Delta, and after the trials and tribulations of the previous day we opted for a leisurely start. The Göksu Delta is one of the most important areas in the region for breeding birds, with over 300 species recorded, and it was our intention to start in the west at a watchtower overlooking a large brackish lagoon and head east along the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Our approach to the lagoon took us over several irrigation canals where we saw our first Little Bittern, Eurasian and Great Reed Warblers, followed by  a single Woodchat Shrike and a fall of Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes.

Red-backed Shrike

The scrub around the watchtower was busy with migrants and supported Black Francolins, Lesser Whitethroats, Common Nightingales, Whinchats, Graceful Prinias and Barred Warblers. Continuing along the track we picked up more Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, our first Masked Shrikes, before we noticed a pale and washed out individual that turned out to be an Isabelline Shrike. This bird gave good views within an area of burnt scrub, before disappearing for long periods, only to appear again in the same place just when we had given up any further hope of seeing it. Isabelline Shrike is a vagrant to this area so we were very pleased to have seen it and hoped that it was good omen for the rest of the day.

Lesser Grey Shrike

The bird life present on the lagoon was fairly limited with a few Red-crested Pochards, Ruddy Shelduck and six Black-necked Grebes on the water, whilst Grey and Purple Herons and a lone Eurasian Spoonbill stood in it. Several Marsh Harriers hunted in the distance and a mixed flock of White-winged Black and Black Terns flitted back and forth over the exposed water. A scan of the scrub from the watchtower produced some prolonged views of Black Francolin, more Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Blackcaps and another glimpse of the Isabelline Shrike. 

Spur-winged Plover

Continuing in an easterly direction along the southern edge of the lagoon, we saw many Spur-winged Plovers, and occasional migrants which included European Roller and Rufous Bush Robin. A prolonged stop at a known site for Marbled Duck, failed to locate this species but produced a wealth of others. Most notably was an abundance of Thrush Nightingales. There were at least 20 birds flicking in and out of the bushes chasing and croaking at each other. Spotted Flycatchers were also present in large numbers, along with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, Common Redstarts and a lone Black-eared Wheatear. 

Thrush Nightingale

We continued our journey east, scanning the brackish pools as we went, Yellow Wagtails of the race Motacilla flava feldegg were numerous, but wader were very scarce, with only three Wood Sandpipers, a single Little Ringed Plover and a handful of Kentish Plovers recorded. We headed down to a small fishing creek and immediately picked up a couple of Stone Curlews and six Eurasian Curlews. A scan from a mound at the end of the track produced another Curlew, a couple of Greenshank and Redshank, five Bar-tailed Godwits and two cracking summer plumaged Broad-billed Sandpipers. Continuing east we stopped to scan a flock of birds roosting on another sand spit, this flock included Slender-billed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, a couple of Black-headed Gulls and a Grey Plover, whilst in the field behind us, a small flock of Greater Short-toed Larks fed.

Stone Curlew

Mitko had information about a small colony of Audouin’s Gulls breeding in the local area so we decided to check it out. Our destination was at the end of a series of small tracks which headed out across the marsh so we proceeded with caution, as the track was quite uneven and wet in places. Our first bird was a surprise in the form of a Common Crane, an immature bird that wasn’t in the best plumage, but a great bird nonetheless. Continuing on, the track opened up onto an area of tidal sand that was not safe to drive on, so we parked our vehicles and walked to the waters edge. The sea was easy to scan in the mill pond conditions and we quickly picked up a small group of four Bottle-nosed Dolphins that lazily swam east. 

Scanning along the foreshore produced better numbers of waders than what we had seen all day, including Kentish, Ringed, and Grey Plovers and a small flock of Little Stints, and undoubtedly the best find of the day...a Lesser Sand Plover. We were fortunate to have the other plover species present for size comparison, but even without them there was no mistaking this birds’ identity. It appeared to be in full summer plumage and showed a complete black band over the eyes and forehead enabling us to identify as the race Charadrius mongolus pamirensis. Apparently there are no confirmed records of this species in Turkey, unfortunately we were unable to get pictures to prove it, but at least the whole group got to see it.

With the light fading fast we headed back to our hotel, glimpsing another Black Francolin and the Common Crane again, on the way. 

To be continued.....

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Titchfield Haven, Bird Ringing 22nd July 2012

With the weather set fair for a second day we decided to take full advantage and descended on Titchfield Haven for another ringing session this morning. The morning began in a similar pattern to the previous day, with the first birds captured being Grasshopper Warblers, and it was not long before we had captured 11, our first double figure haul of this species this year. Still much slower than last year, but we have now captured 18 birds, all of which have been juveniles. Eurasian Reed Warbler was once again the most common species, with 16 birds captured, but in contrast to the Groppers, the majority of these birds were adults.

Adult Reed Warbler Wing

Ageing reed warblers is a relatively straight forward process, since both adults and juveniles mainly have a complete moult on their wintering grounds. This means that the wing and feathers are usually extremely worn in adult birds in the autumn. Obviously the extent of wear is variable, but in the image above it is possible to clearly see the worn tips to the primaries, and bleaching of the feather tips where one primary overlays the other.

Juvenile Reed Warbler Wing
In a juvenile bird the primaries are very fresh, showing little or no wear, as can be seen above.  In addition to the worn plumage, adult birds also have a warm grey-brown or rufous-brown iris...

Adult Reed Warbler Eye
 ...whereas the juvenile iris is dark grey, as illustrated below.

Juvenile Reed Warbler Eye

The species captured was similar to that of the previous day, and included more Sedge Warblers, both adults and juveniles, four Chiffchaffs and four Blackcaps, and another adult Garden Warbler. Two juvenile Song Thrush, and a juvenile Reed Bunting made up the numbers. We ended the session having caught 57 birds of which 55 were new; finally it is looking like the autumn migration is getting going.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Titchfield Haven Bird Ringing 21st July 2012

After the dreadful weather of the summer to date, this morning it was gorgeous, a virtually clear sky and not a breath of wind, perfect for some bird ringing back at Titchfield Haven.

Sunrise at Titchfield Haven

We had hoped for a day like this since today was the first of our autumn public ringing events, now all we needed was some birds. A session on Thursday 19th had only produced eight birds, hopefully it would be better than that. Our first net round showed evidence that the migration had started, with four Grasshopper last!, along with a few Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. As so it continued. The session was steady and included 15 Reed Warblers and six Sedge Warblers, a mixture of both adults and juveniles. We also ringed five Grasshopper Warblers, all juveniles, three Cetti's Warblers, a few Robins and single Great Tit and Dunnock.

Garden Warbler

Sylvia Warblers were the second most numerous genus, with seven Blackcaps, two Whitethroats and a Garden Warbler. The Garden Warbler was an adult bird in partial moult; it had previously lost half of its tail and was moulting in a replacement half, but also was replacing some of its tertials and was in body moult. According to Jenni and Winkler (1994), the extent of post breeding moult is very variable, and may be completely suppressed, but usually involves part of the body feathers, tertials and greater coverts, and rarely secondaries and primaries, so this bird was doing what is should. The Blackcaps proved to be interesting with a mixture of adults, 2nd Calendar year birds and juveniles, it always catches people out when they see a juvenile Blackcap with a brown cap, and this year was no exception.

Juvenile Willow Warbler

It was nice to see the first juvenile Willow Warblers of the year, with two captured, along with five Chiffchaffs, and although not a direct comparison, it was good to be able to show people the difference in the wing formula of the two species.

Adult Chiffchaff (left) and Juvenile Willow Warbler (right)

So by the end of the session we had captured over 50 birds of 13 species, our highest daily tally to date, and it was nice to catch a variety of species and to demonstrate to the public wild birds in the hand, and explain the value of bird ringing...lets hope that summer has finally arrived.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What a difference a year makes.....

This time last year we were basking in gloriously summery weather conditions and ringing record numbers of migrant birds at Titchfield Haven, in particular large numbers of Grasshopper Warblers, with over 70 captured in the first week of ringing. This year however, we are still suffering from the effects of a lower than usual jet stream, and very unseasonably wet and windy conditions. It is therefore not surprising that so far the autumn migration has struggled to get going, and after four sessions we had not even managed to catch a total of 100 birds.

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler

We did manage to catch our first Grasshopper Warblers of the year though, one on Thursday 12th and one on Saturday 14th. Both birds were juveniles, and since they do not breed at Titchfield Haven they must have been migrants. We did also catch an adult Willow Warbler, which is another species that doesn't breed at the site so must be a migrant, this bird won't be going anywhere for a while though because it was undergoing it post breeding moult. Presumably it has given up on breeding and moved to the coast to moult before moving on.

With the ringing session over, after having ringed another disappointing total of 20 birds, I headed back to Manor Farm Country Park to check on the Barn Owls, and I am pleased to report that they were doing very well.

Juvenile Barn Owl

The larger of the two birds had lost all its down and looked as immaculate as an adult bird. Its primary feathers were no longer in pin and it was in very good condition. The second, and smaller of the two chicks, had also put on some weight and grown significantly, in fact it was much heavier than the older bird.

Juvenile Barn Owl

I have to admit I was worried about these two owl chicks and how their parents wood fare catching food in the often wet nights we have been having, so I was very relieved to see them doing so well.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Why so many waders in July?

I had an interesting afternoon kayaking up the River Hamble, and have to say I was surprised by the number, and variety of wading bird species present. In a four hour session I saw five Common Sandpipers, seven Dunlin, two Common Greenshank, three Curlew, two Whimbrel, seven Oystercatchers and 17 Lapwing. OK I know not massive numbers, but for the River Hamble in early July this is very unusual.

So whats that all about?

I know that both Oystercatcher and Lapwing breed locally, and Curlew numbers have been building up over the last few weeks, but to have Common Sands, Dunlin, Greenshank and Whimbrel back so early is crazy. I had heard from a friend that Black-tailed Godwits have had a bad breeding season in Iceland, but it would also appear that may other arctic breeding species have too...or did they just breed early and are now returning. Hopefully the autumn ringing will shed some light!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Burning the candle at both ends....

Saturday 7th July is not a memorable date for me but it was the date that we decided we were going to start our autumn ringing at Titchfield Haven. We were not expecting to catch much, as the session was more about trimming net rides, setting nets and just making sure the electrics were working, nonetheless, we were there so we opened the nets. The overnight rain had passed and the strong winds died down so a 4 o'clock start was planned.

The wet weather this year has meant that the ringing area was flooded, to the point that I have never seen it before, well maybe once in mid November...but this is early July! This is not a major issue except for the fact that it meant that we could not set our nets to the ground, as we usually do for Grasshopper Warblers.

The session was slow and we began with a tailless Robin and a Blackbird, before catching our first Reed Warbler of the autumn. In total we caught four Reed Warblers, two adults and two juveniles and all local breeders. Apparently this species has had a terrible breeding season at the haven with numbers well down and nests failing, so it was good to see at least two young had fledged.

Adult Reed Warbler

Our next round produced two Song Thrush, a Blue Tit and the first of three Cetti's Warblers. All of the Cetti's were adults and were extremely tatty birds; they have not finished breeding yet and subsequently had not undergone their post breeding moult, and the female still had a very prominent brood patch.

Tatty Cetti's Warbler

Two Common Whitethroats and a Great Tit later we caught a few Chiffchaffs, these again were local breeders and extremely tatty and again have not undergone their post breeding moult and were still singing, so must be having another attempt at breeding.

Tatty Chiffchaff

It was a steady session with 20 birds captured and then the rain arrived, and did it rain! From 7 o'clock in the morning until just after 7 o'clock in the evening, 12 hours of torrential rain it was dreadful. 

Feeling like a caged lion after being confined to the house all day, I decided on a late evening visit to Botley Wood for a nocturnal ringing session. Everywhere was soaked, but at least the sodden grass would keep the ticks at bay, well hopefully.

Almost immediately on arrival at my chosen ringing site I heard a brief bust of a Nightjar, and so set a net and waited. Whilst waiting patiently a lone Woodcock was roding overhead and Song Thrush song filled the air. Once dark enough I began the session, a male nightjar performed really well, and flew around the net churring and wing clapping, but unfortunately managed to avoid going in it. So after the early start and the now late finish, it was time to call it a day, lets hope that the weather is better tomorrow.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Prickly predators in the garden

This weeks events have once again been dominated by the weather, and with heavy rain often forecast for the evening, cancelled bat surveys meant that I was able to spend some time at home. But not being one to sit down in front of the telly I opted for sitting under an umbrella in the garden to watch the resident Hedgehogs. 

Juvenile Hedgehog

Every year I record Hedgehogs in the garden, usually due to the presence of their faeces, but occasionally I see one in the early evening. To my delight, this year they have chosen to breed in the garden, and have been extremely confiding, often coming out before sunset. I have so far counted five together on one night, two adults and three juveniles, but usually just the four. Apparently males are usually larger than females, although it can be difficult to detect this difference due to seasonal variations and age, but one adult appeared to be much larger than the other and therefore I am assuming this to be a male.

Hedgehogs enjoying discarded bird seed...and slugs

The Hedgehogs have taken to eating discarded bird seed and the white slugs that are feeding on it, and seem to have made it their first port of call in the evening. You can hear them snuffling and grunting as they forage on the lawn, before letting out a satisfied snort when they find a tasty morsel.


The wet summer we have been having in the UK this year has made it ideal for slugs and snails, and subsequently that should make it good for the hedgehogs, but in order to avoid poisoning the little chaps I have refrained from putting down any slug pellets, I am hoping they will do that job for me.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

It's still blowing a gale....

Another weekend and again the strong winds made it impossible to try any mist netting so it was back to the local stables to check up on the nesting Barn Swallows. It had been three weeks since my last visit, when the nesting birds were all on eggs, so I was expecting to find chicks, and I was not to be disappointed.

Walking into the first stable I was greeted with three expectant faces looking over the rim of the the mud nest cup. The birds were well developed and not too far off fledging, which was good to see given the appalling weather we have had recently in the UK.

Barn Swallow Fledglings

There are 25 stables at this site, and all the horses were out in the paddocks, so I was able to check them all. In total 10 nests had chicks in, although one brood was too small to ring, so I will have to pop back next week. The average brood size was three, although there was one brood of five and one of four.

Barn Swallow

There was a fair variation in size between the chicks with their wing lengths ranging from 67mm to 95mm, and their weights ranging from 15.5 to 28.7 grams. In total 30 birds, from nine nests were were ringed, which was a good total for my first visit. Hopefully there will be a couple more broods for them all this year.
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