Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Titchfield Haven, Bird Ringing Update - 23rd October 2012

Bird ringing at The Haven was very quiet today, with a total of 22 birds ringed, the commonest species being European robin, with five new birds ringed. This is typical of this time of year, as continental birds cross the North Sea to winter in the United Kingdom, in fact regular readers of this blog may remember a previous post, The fruits of our Labour - August 2012, where we received a recovery of a robin that was ringed at The Haven in October 2010, and retrapped in Germany in October 2011...maybe one of today's will head the same way.

European Robin (B. S. Duffin)

We also caught our fifth Bullfinch of the year, this bird being a juvenile male. As I have previously described, young bullfinches are quite straightforward to age since they usually retain some of their outer greater coverts, as can be clearly seen with the bird below (indicated by the arrow).

Juvenile Male Bullfinch (B. S. Duffin)

Other species ringed included two more goldcrests, three chiffs, three wrens, a song thrush, blue and great tits, and our first lesser redpoll of the year. We have heard the occasional redpoll pass over the ringing area this autumn, but this is the first to have been low enough to  be captured.

Lesser Redpoll (B. S. Duffin)
This is the 28th lesser redpoll to have been ringed at The Haven, 12 of those have been ringed in the last four years.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Titchfield Haven Bird Ringing Update - 21st October 2012

This weekends ringing had a very, late autumn, end of season feel about it, with the numbers of birds and diversity of species, much lower than they have been during August and September. The acro's have now gone, we did not catch a single reed or sedge warbler, and the same with groppers. Our gropper total ended on 360 birds, the third most numerous species ringed, with sedge warbler (635) and blackcap (368 so far), the two most numerous species. The gropper total is the fourth highest ever for the site, with the previous highest being the three preceding years, 950 (2011), 569 (2009) and 463 (2010). In the last 14 seasons we have ringed a total of 4019 groppers, which is an astonishing total seeing as in the previous 25 years only 18 birds were ringed.

Yellow-browed Warbler (B. S. Duffin)

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday began with a bit of excitement as a yellow-browed warbler was one of the first birds extracted. A cracking juvenile bird, in very fresh plumage and only the third to be ringed at the Haven. Saturday also began with a bit of excitement, although not the same rarity value as yellow-browed, but another firecrest. This is our fifth firecrest of the year, and our best year ever for this species, the grand total for the site is 15. This latest bird was a juvenile female.

Juvenile female Firecrest

The most numerous species of the last two days was chiffchaff, with 25 ringed Friday and 26 ringed Saturday, only eight blackcaps, six goldcrests and three wrens. Cetti's warblers have been a bit elusive in recent weeks, since they will have been undergoing their post breeding or post juvenile moults, but two new birds were ringed this weekend, and also two new robins.

Cetti's Warbler

Another surprise was a juvenile common redstart, which was the fifth bird ringed this year. This is the highest total for this species, four being the previous highest total in 2001 and 2004; a total of 33 have now been ringed at the Haven. Single song thrush and blackbird, and a retrap Eurasian treecreeper made up the totals; 37 new birds Friday and 42 Saturday.

Eurasian Treecreeper

Two the the Havens volunteers, Andy and Eddie, have recently put in a lot of time renovating the Heligoland trap at the Haven. Now finished it is being baited with the hope of attracting reed buntings for some winter ringing. A quick visit to see if any birds were there resulted in a single jay on 14/10/2012. This bird turned out to be a retrap that was first ringed on 16/08/1997, some 15 years 1 month and 28 days earlier. The longevity record for jay currently belongs to a North Yorkshire bird that was retrapped 16 years 9 months and 19 days after its original capture, although not the record this is a pretty good innings for our bird.

Friday, 19 October 2012

A Yellow-browed Warbler and loads of Sleepy Dormice

Today I had a busy day planned doing some more hazel dormouse training for the rangers at Titchfield Haven. I had considered doing some ringing prior to the training, but instead opted for an extra hours slept....what a mistake! As I was just rounding the double bend at the back of the haven I received the image below from Ed Bennett, one of the rangers I would be training. Given the number of yellow-browed warblers in the country at the moment the biggest surprise was that none had been caught, well not any more, I will be down there ringing tomorrow so maybe there will be another, or even something better!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Titchfiled Haven (Ed Bennett)

Since we were at the haven we started our dormouse survey by checking there first. There are a mixture of tubes and boxes around the ringing area, with a few bird nest boxes thrown in for good measure. The dormice aren't really choosy about which box they use, as they have been previously recorded in all of them, not this time though, a few old nests was all that was on offer. The ringing area has been saturated this year so it not surprising we recorded none here, its probably just too wet.

Hazel Dormouse

Our next site was to the west of Titchfield Haven, a site where we recorded five animals last year, and one earlier this year. This year we got off to a great start with three individuals, one adult female and two juveniles, in the first box. These were a feisty bunch with one of the juveniles appearing not to have read the dormouse handbook, and duly gave Nick a nip on the finger. The third box was similar to the first, with three individuals in it, this time it appeared that there was an adult male and female, and one juvenile. Two more active dormice in another box, before we came across the two below.

Two Torpid Dormice

The Hazel Dormouse is a lazy species spending around six months of the year in hibernation, in a woven nest at ground level. But even in the summer months they will enter torpor, particularly when its raining or their food supply is short. When torpid they can be readily handled without waking, and can even be heard to snore!

Torpid Dormouse

The Hazel Dormouse is strictly nocturnal and predominantly arboreal, and during the summer is active from dusk until around 3 - 4 am. During September and October, when it is fattening up for hibernation they will be active all night.

Torpid Dormouse

Prior to hibernation adults can weigh between 25 - 35 grams, with the heaviest recorded in the wild weighing 43 grams, juveniles weighing less than 12 grams will be unlikely to survive the winter. Today we recorded weights of between 16 - 27 grams, so all of them appear to be in good health, and will hopefully be well placed to survive the winter.

Torpid Dormouse

By the end of the session we had recorded 11 dormice in five nests...our highest total ever, and found inactive nests in other parts of the site where we had previously recorded none. This is excellent news all round, since it would seem to suggest that the species is doing well despite the very changeable weather we have had this year. It also shows that the management of this particular woodland by the Rangers at Titchfield Haven is also benefiting the species, long may it continue. The plan is to register this site on the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme so that the population can be studied and its long term survival can be maintained at this site.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Titchfield Haven - Bird Ringing Update 14th October 2012

After the best part of a month with no bird ringing it was back to Titchfield Haven this weekend in the hope of catching an autumn rarity. Looking at the weather during the week it had looked touch and go, Saturday was meant to have heavy showers, and Sunday was meant to be a wash out. But luckily the weather changed, there were heavy showers overnight on Friday, but they missed The Haven on Saturday morning, and the predicted rain on Sunday stayed to the south, although the clear sky did produce a heavy frost Sunday morning, and frozen nets are never a good way to start a ringing session!

Firecrest, Titchfield Haven 

Based on previous years, October ringing sessions are quite relaxing affairs in that we don't catch many birds, but what we do catch can often involve something of quality. However, this year, Saturday began with our nets full of birds, the majority were Eurasian chiffchaffs (40) and blackcaps (27), but as can often be the case this time of year, they included several goldcrests (10) and two firecrests. 

Firecrest - Titchfield Haven

Firecrests have been a bit of a rarity over the years, so to catch two in one day is a very noteworthy event! As well as the previous species we also ringed three song thrush, three reed warblers, a couple of new robins and single Cetti's warbler, reed bunting and blackbird. By the end of the session we had ringed 95 new birds of 11 species, which is an exceptional day for October.

Sunday began with clear skies and a heavy frost, which is not a good start when your nets have been left furled overnight. But it was not longed before they began to thaw and the birds began to move. The pattern began in a similar way to the day before, with blackcaps, chiffchaffs and goldcrests filling the nets, but it included another new firecrest, our third in two days!

Firecrest - Titchfield Haven

We have never caught three firecrests in one year before, but in fact what you don't know is that Barry caught another whilst I was away, so that is four in one year....amazing! It would be interesting to know how many of these are migrants and how many are local breeders dispersing from their breeding grounds. 

Sunday was not as busy as Saturday, and we ended the session on 44 birds, but the total did include a further 14 chiffchaffs, 12 blackcaps, 10 goldcrests, two Cetti's and a coal tit.

Coal Tit - Titchfield Haven

OK why mention a coal tit I hear you say, and I would have to agree seeing as I regularly catch them in my garden, but this was only the 6th coal tit ringed at the The Haven, so a bit of a mega in its own right!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

California, September 2012 - Monterey Bay and Sea Valley Pelagic

In stark contrast with the pelagic out of Bodega Bay, this pelagic left Monterey with an  overcast sky and an oily calm, millpond like sea. We exited the harbour slowly, so that we could view the seaward side of the breakwater in search of waders, and were rewarded with Black Turnstones and Surfbirds, and Black Scoter, Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre on the sea.

Black-vented Shearwater

The calm conditions were ideal for spotting small birds on the water and we were soon picking up Red-necked Phalaropes, Rhinocerous and Cassin's Auklets, the latter being extremely nervous of the boat and taking flight before we got anywhere near them. As we headed out to sea we started seeing our first shearwaters, initially Sooty, but quickly followed by Black-vented. This small shearwater, is dark brown above and white below, but as the name suggests has dark undertail coverts. We were advised to make sure we got a good look at these birds since it would probably be the only ones we saw, there were three in total, but we did in fact see more, or the same three on the way back in.

Pink-footed Shearwater

Continuing out we picked up more shearwaters in the wake of the boat, Sooty's were the most numerous initally, but were soon being replaced by Pink-footed and then a few Buller's appeared. There were many more Buller's out of Monterey that there was out of Bodega, but despite their often close views it was difficult to get any decent photos due the poor light.

Buller's Shearwater
Buller's Shearwater

A small group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins came into the ride the bow briefly and then it was back to the birds as a Flesh-footed Shearwater came into the wake. I had seen this species before in New Zealand, but don't remember appreciating its lumbering flight, which was more reminiscent of Cory's Shearwater. This bird stayed with us for a while and I was eventually able to get some acceptable record shots.

Flesh-footed Shearwater

Flesh-footed Shearwater

During this pelagic we were also able to see some visible migration and had a few land bird species visit the boat. A small group of Lesser Goldfinches circled and attempted to land before heading off, as did a Red-winged Blackbird, but the bird that drew the most attention was an exhausted Red-breasted Nuthatch. This bird initially landed on a pole hook, before deciding that the best looking habitat on the ship was someones fleece hat, whilst they were still wearing it. This bird was eventually captured and released in a nearby park back on shore.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch

The calm conditions made for excellent viewing of marine mammals and fish, and we saw five species of cetacean, Humpback Whale, Risso's and Pacific White-sided Dolphin and Dall's and Harbour Porpoise, plus got some excellent views of Ocean Sunfish. We had seen brief Humpback Whale blows on the way out, but the animals dived as we approached and did not resurface, whereas on our return to harbour two animals put on an excellent show. One of them was rolling around in kelp, and then swimming through it, presumably using it to remove parasites, or deal with an itch!

Humpback Whale blow. Much of the literature describes the blow of
Humpback Whale as being variable, tall, vertical and bushy, but all of the
Humpbacks we saw gave the 'V' shaped blow as pictured above.
Apparently this type of blow is more typical of North Pacific Right Whale,
but it would appear that is not the case in Monterey bay.
Two Humpback Whales
Fluking Humpback Whale

We had two encounters with Dall's Porpoises, one group of three and then a group of 12. This species is so fast, that it makes photographing them really tough, even in a millpond like sea.

Dall's Porpoise

Dall's Porpoise

By contrast the Risso's Dolphins that we saw just effortlessly glided through the water as if they didn't have a care in the world, making very easy photographic subjects.

Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphins

The Ocean Sunfish were massive, certainly the biggest I had ever seen, it is difficult to gauge size in the image below but they dwarfed the accompanying Western Gulls. They have a laterally flattered body and apparently attract a large number of parasites, which is the reason they have a tendency to float on the surface. By doing this, they allow gulls to feast on the parasites that have accumulated on them, which is a great example of a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby the gull gets food and the Sunfish has its parasites removed.

This Ocean Sunfish was massive, but it is difficult to see that without
anything for size comparison, you will just have to take my word for it.
This group of at least a dozen young Ocean Sunfish had attracted
numerous gulls who were getting quite excited at the prospect of a nourishing feast.

Other bird species seen included Parasitic, Pomerine and South Polar Skua and a handful of Sabine's Gulls, one of which was a cracking adult.

Sabine's Gull

Returning back into Monterey harbour we were greeted with excellent views of a Southern Sea Otter with her cub. The mother was obviously used to boats and didn't really pay us too much attention, but the pup was much more wary, and made sure mum was positioned between us for protection.

Southern Sea Otter and cub

So that was the end of my second pelagic with Shearwater Journeys, a much calmer affair than the first out of Bodega Bay and not as much excitement. But it still produced an excellent mix of good birds and marine mammals, and was every bit as enjoyable. The trip was billed as Monterey Bay and Sea Valley and Storm-petrels, but we did not see a single Storm-petrel, but then I think I had had my fill further north. Both of my trips with Shearwater Journeys have been excellent, and I would still urge anyone coming to visit the west coast of California to book on at least one.

Friday, 12 October 2012

California, September 2012 - Monterey Bay Area

After five days away from the coast, it was time to head back, this time to the south of San Francisco to Monterey Bay. As I mentioned in a previous post I had booked another pelagic out of Monterey Bay with Shearwater Journeys on 28th September 2012 and wanted to have a few days birding the area, either side of that trip, and before we headed home. The journey from Yosemite to Monterey Bay was a long one so we stopped several times on the way, the most interesting stop being a cattle chase called Lasgolity Chase, along Highway 140. 

Horned Lark
At Lasgolity Chase my attention was drawn to a small flock of larks feeding on the ground, which on closer inspection turned out to be Horned Larks. These birds are totally different to the pinkish coloured birds, with broad black bibs that I have been seeing in south-eastern Turkey over the last few years, but they still have the yellow throat and bib, and brownish mantle and back typical of Horned Larks. 

Horned Lark

Interestingly in the heat of the day they spent most of their time feeding in the shade of the metal bars of the gates, rarely stepping out into the full sun...only I was doing that! Whilst watching the Horned Larks, two Western Meadowlarks wandered into view and an American Kestrel hunted from the overhead cables. 

Western Meadowlark

Scanning the horizon produced several raptor species which included a passing Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawks, two Golden Eagles and a column of Turkey Vultures that numbered well over 100 birds, a spectacular sight. As we continued on a Mountain Lion casually wandering across a meadow caused me to make a hasty U-turn.

Column of Turkey Vultures

We arrived in Monterey in the late afternoon, and after checking into our hotel headed out for a walk to see the bay. Our accommodation was close to the beach and overlooked a small lake and conservation area. American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Canada Geese, Heermann’s and Western Gulls, a Green Heron and three Black-crowned Night-Herons were present on the lake. 

Elegant Tern

In the Harbour Elegant Terns patrolled the tide line, and Common and Pacific Loons fed offshore. In the harbour Black Turnstones were roosting on the harbour edge, Belted Kingfishers fed from yacht masts, Great Egrets fed from floating kelp and a Pigeon Guillemot was in the harbour. But it wasn’t just birds that were on show in Monterey Bay, sea mammals were abundant. 

Californian Sea Lions
Bull Californian Sea Lion
Californian Sea Lion and Brandt's Cormorant

A large colony of California Sea Lions are resident on a pier at the harbour entrance, four bulls were in a stand off, making themselves tall and dominant and barking at each other. Harbour Seals were left to sleep on exposed rocks in what looked to be extremely uncomfortable positions. 

Harbour Seal
Our favourites were the Sea Otters, they were floating around the harbour occasionally diving and hunting for crabs, and when it was time to sleep, wrapping themselves in kelp before nodding off. 

Black Turnstone

Seventeen mile drive is the coastal road around the headland that leads to Carmel by-the-sea. It costs $9.75 to access but your ticket is valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. The beaches around the road can be quite busy with both birds and people and dog walkers throwing sticks into the middle of flocks of waders for their dogs to chase was extremely irritating. 

Hudsonian Whimbrel

Nonetheless birding was excellent, Sanderling were the most numerous species, we the supportinmg cast including Hudsonian Whimbrel, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone, Western Sandpipier, Dunlin and a very obliging Snowy Plover. 

Juvenile Snowy Plover

This bird was a juvenile, as can be seen by the still speckled crown.

Snowy Plover
A Buff-bellied Pipit was a nice find, a species I had not yet encountered on this trip and another Glaucous-winged Gull was on the beach at Carmel. Scanning out to sea produced both Long-tailed and Parasitic Jeagers, Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a Short-billed Dowitcher roosting on the kelp.

Buff-bellied Pipit
Andrew Molera State Park is located to the south of Monterey along Highway 1 on the Big Sur. It is widely regarded as one of the best birding areas in the region, and despite arriving in the middle of the day there was still much to see. From the car park we took the track towards the campsite and immediately stumbled across a mixed flock of birds that included Bushtit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Townsend Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, Downy Woodpecker and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. 

Hutton's Vireo
Continuing along the track towards the sea we passed the campsite where cheeky California Ground Squirrels kept a close eye on our movements, darting back into their burrows if we approached too close. 

Californian Ground Squirrel

Birding was tough in the dense scrub but eventually Spotted Towhee, Black-chinned and Savannah Sparrow, Bewick’s and House Wrens, California Towhee and Nuttall’s Woodpecker were seen, and whilst looking for the passerines we picked out roosting Great Horned and Barn Owls. 

Great Horned Owl

At the mouth of the river that flows through the site Green-winged Teal and Pintail were recorded, whilst Golden Eagle, White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon were recorded overhead. All in all it was an excellent days birding despite most of it being shrouded in low cloud, our first of the trip!
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