Friday, 30 November 2012

More Little Owls at Manor Farm - 29th November 2012

With the weather set fair, the sky clear and no wind it was off to Manor Farm for a spot of nocturnal bird ringing. In previous years this time of year has proved to be an ideal time to catch little owls, so we set our nets and waited. A barn owl was screeching as we put the nets up, and a tawny owl called in the distance, but otherwise it was quiet. A stroll around the fields produced a couple of calling lapwing, and then it was back to the nets and.......a little owl.

Juvenile Little Owl

During previous nocturnal ringing sessions at Manor Farm we have had mixed success, and have so far ringed five new birds and retrapped one; in 2011 three new birds were ringed, this year one of last years birds has been retrapped, until last night that is. 

Little Owl wing showing Juvenile Primary Coverts

According to Baker (1993) Identification Guide to European Non-passerines, juvenile little owls undergo a partial moult, that starts soon after fledging and is confined to the head, body lesser and median coverts. However, adult birds undergo a complete post breeding moult that usually starts as early as June or July and continues through to September or October, occasionally November.

Juvenile Primary Coverts

This bird was evidently a juvenile since it had moulted the majority of its wing coverts with the exception of the primary coverts and some feathers in the crown and nape. The difference in the shape of the primary coverts and their colouration can be seen in the two images above.

Pointed Tips to Primary Coverts

Another feature of juvenile birds is the shape and patterning of the outer-most primary, in juvenile birds this feather is pointed with a white tip to the inner and outer webs. In adult birds the outer-most feather is rounded at the tip with the outer web only, showing a white tip. Interestingly, this bird did not show a white tip to the inner web of the outer-most primary, but the tip of the feather was still pointed, therefore it is worth being cautious with this feature.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Purple Sandpipers, Southsea Castle - November 2012

It was pretty breezy today and so in the absence of any bird ringing I had to find something else to occupy me. I had heard via the grapevine that a few purple sandpipers were back at Southsea Castle and so decided that this was the place to go. The wind was strong on the sea front and the swell was bringing waves crashing in, but the tide was out and so the rocks and sea defences were exposed.

It didn't take me long to find a few purple sands, initially three, then five and then after a thunderous wave 12. The birds were spending much of their time feeding on the rocks which form the start of the sea defence, and as the waves crashed in, some would fly up to evade the water whilst others just sat still as water splashed down around them. 

Purple Sandpiper being drenched by the Crashing Waves, SouthseaCastle

Purple Sandpipers annually winter along the sea defences at Southsea Castle but it has been many years since I last saw double figures of birds there.  

Juvenile Purple Sandpiper, Southsea Castle

Juvenile birds can be easily identified by the presence of white fringing to the scapulars and wing coverts, as illustrated on the pictures above and below. Adult birds are more boldly streaked on the breast and flanks, and lack the pale fringing to the wing coverts.

Juvenile Purple Sandpiper, Southsea Castle

At least five of the birds I saw were juveniles, which was nice to see given that most of the wader species I encounter these days seem to have had very poor breeding success. Unfortunately the light was very poor, and the on-set of some very heavy, blustery showers curtailed my visit but hopefully there will be some better days during the winter when I will be able to pop back for some better photos.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Titchfield Haven Bird Ringing - Year End Summary 2012

As I mentioned in a previous post, the autumn migration is pretty much over and so with very few birds passing through the ringing area at Titchfield Haven, it was time to call it a day, well season. Overall it was an interesting year that was made all the more frustrating by some very variable weather conditions, but whilst there were some very low totals for some species, others had a record year.

Selected Annual Ringing Totals Titchfield Haven 2012

The season finished with a total of 2579 birds ringed between early July and the end of October 2012, with the most numerous species ringed being sedge warbler (635), followed by blackcap (371),  grasshopper warbler (360), reed warbler (304) and chiffchaff (291). I have previously discussed what a fantastic year 2011 was totals wise, and the following graph and table illustrate this.

Five Year Totals for Selected Species

During 2011, 1436 sedge warblers were ringed in the autumn period, during 2012 only 635 were ringed, 44% of the 2011 total. Grasshopper warbler followed a similar pattern, with the 2012 total being only 38% of the 2011 total. The totals for whitethroat, garden warbler and chiffchaff were equally low with the 2012 totals being 22%, 27% and 34% of 2011 totals, respectively.

Five Year Totals for Selected Species (the figures in red represent the
highest annual total for that species)

But whilst the totals for many species were much lower, common redstart and firecrest had their highest ever totals this year with five and seven, respectively ringed. Blackbird and song thrush totals were the highest for over 10 years, although the numbers of birds ringed were still fairly low. Overall the 2012 total was the lowest autumn total at Titchfield Haven since 2006.

Annual Titchfield Haven Ringing Totals 2008 - 2012 

Given the above results it would appear that several bird species suffered poor breeding success during the summer of 2012. It is considered that the poor weather conditions throughout the breeding season may have been a contributing factor, but poor weather over the Mediterranean during the spring migration may have meant that less adult birds returned to breed. The recently published State of UK's Birds 2012 report details that the number of breeding birds in the UK has declined by 44 million since 1966. Changes in land use and management, and loss and fragmentation of habitat have been cited as some of the reasons for the decline, along with cold and wet weather. Given the apparent effect the weather this summer has had on breeding birds, the declines of some species could be much faster if the trend of colder and wetter summers continues. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

The First Winter Blackcap in the Garden...or is it a Late Migrant?

I spent the day at home today and so had the chance to put a net up in the garden. The usual suspects were present, blue tit, great tit, coal tit and great spotted woodpecker, but also a couple of marsh tits. Marsh tits are regular visitors to my garden in the winter and over the last 12 years I have ringed nine new birds in my garden. I did not have my binoculars handy and therefore could not see whether these birds had been ringed before, but I will keep an eye out. 

A steady trickle of blue tits were passing through the garden, when a juvenile male blackcap turned up in the net. I had glimpsed a male blackcap earlier in the day in another part of the estate and suspect that this is the same bird.

Juvenile Male Blackcap

This bird was in immaculate condition, the wing and tail feathers were very fresh and it was in good condition, having a fat score of 1 and a muscle score of 2.

Juvenile Male Blackcap

My immediate impression was that this bird was a winter visitor that had just arrived, but given that there is still a scattering of migrants present in the UK, such as subalpine warbler in Cornwall, a few dusky warblers and chiffchaffs, it could just be a late summer migrant. The next few months will determine that..

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Winter Bird Ringing - 18th November 2012

With the autumn migration pretty much over, bird ringing at the usual ringing area at Titchfield Haven has now finished. Typically that would be the end of ringing at the Haven for me and I would move to other sites, but this year there is a back up plan in place. Over the last couple of years a nearby field has been sow with Quinoa, the crop failed last year due to the dry weather, but this year the crop did very well, and subsequently a decent crop of bird food is present.

Field of Quinoa

Over the last few weeks the numbers of reed buntings present have steadily increased to the point where over 100 were present, so we thought we would try and catch them. The weather was amazing this morning, a crisp, clear, still and frosty morning, so we met up early to set the nets before first light. The weather conditions were ideal for bird ringing and as the sun got up the birds began to arrive, reed buntings were first, followed by brambling, lesser redpoll, chaffinch and bullfinch.

Female Reed Bunting

The session began well, with a handful of reed buntings, a dunnock and chaffinch. Sexing reed buntings is generally straight forward since male birds have white visible in the collar, a largely olive or greyish rump, a black band on throat feathers and around two-thirds of each crown feather is black. But despite handling quite a few reed buntings some of them can be quite tricky to age.

Juvenile Type Tail Feathers

Adult birds usually moult completely post breeding and replace both wing and tail feathers from the end of July to September. Adults therefore tend to have fresh primary tips and tail feathers, whereas juveniles are worn, in addition the feathers in juvenile birds are narrow and pointed. However, the variability in the pointedness of tail features and extent of abrasion on individual birds is great. The image above shows juvenile type features, they are pointed and worn, whereas the tail below has broad and rounded tail feathers that show little wear and therefore are indicative of an adult bird.

Adult Type Tail Feathers

The session was going well and it was not long before we had ringed over 20 reed buntings, four chaffinch's, two dunnock a robin and a superb adult male common kestrel. This bird was in fantastic condition, and looked stunning with his grey head, and tail with its black sub-terminal band.

Adult Male Common Kestrel

An interesting footnote for this blog is the re-capture of a reed bunting that I ringed in my garden on 11th March 2012. This bird was re-trapped at Titchfield Haven on 30th October at Titchfield Haven, not a massive movement but still its always nice to have one of your birds controlled.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Greater Horseshoe Bat - A Pleasant Surprise

It was an early start this morning as we had to travel to Somerset and survey a site before heading onto Taunton for a meeting. We arrived at the site in plenty of time and did what we had to do before coming across a small cave set in a limestone escarpment.

Small Cave in Limestone Escarpment

The cave itself looked fairly shallow, but on entering, it was possible to see that the cave extended upwards into the limestone. Looking around we located loads of large bat droppings on the cave floor; the droppings were in three parts and measured about 10 millimetres in length and about 2.5 millimetres wide. The size and shape of the droppings looked very reminiscent of greater horseshoe bats, so we investigated further.

Large Bat Droppings on Floor of Cave

Looking up there was the bat, a greater horseshoe, wings wrapped around it and torpid. Greater horseshoe bats are mainly restricted to the South-west of England and South Wales so it was not an unexpected find, but nonetheless still exciting.

Roosting Greater Horseshoe

Horseshoe bats are from the genus Rhinolophus and there are two species resident in the UK, Lesser R. hipposideros and greater R. ferrumequinum. When roosting the two species are readily distinguished since greater horseshoe is tablespoon sized, where as lesser horseshoe is teaspoon sized. The two species habitat preferences include woodlands and linear features such as mature hedgerows and woodland edges. Lesser Horseshoes echolocate at around 110 kilohertz, whereas greater horseshoes at around 82kHz. These are species that we rarely encounter in Hampshire so it is always good to see one when surveying out of the county.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Swifts (and bats) in the Belfry

I was recently contacted by a representative of the RSPB to see if I would be able to help resolve an issue with common swifts getting into a local church. This is an issue that has been happening over the last couple of years; and involves birds from the breeding colony at the church somehow getting into the church itself, becoming exhausted and dying. I was asked to attend because as well as breeding swifts, there are also roosting bats, and it was imperative that whatever plan of action was to be designed, it must help the swifts but not impact on the bats. The church dates from Norman times and is constructed with brick and flint, with a clay tiled roof, the side elevations of the bell tower are clad with wooden shingles and again it has  a clay tiled roof.

Dead Common Swift, Peacock Butterfly wings and Cluster Flies

I had to access the bell tower by-way of a long ladder and a small wooden door, which led to a small set of steps, and then into the first floor of the bell tower. I counted at least five dead swifts scattered in various locations in this area, along with several wings from peacock butterflies and hundreds of bat droppings and cluster flies Pollenia species.

Swift Head positioned upright on a Stone

There was also a reasonable amount of rodent activity in the bell tower, and some of the swift corpses had been eaten. Eerily, the head of one of the dead swifts was upright on a piece of plaster, I'm not really sure whether someone had positioned it like that or it had just ended up like that after being knocked/gnawed by rodents, probably the latter since its beak was missing.

Decomposed Swift with Flat Fly Pupae

I was rummaging around trying to find, where swifts were getting into the tower and how they were getting into the church. But as I was doing so I came across a decomposed swift with several small black pellets lying around it. I have seen these before when I have ringed swifts in the nest and know them to be the pupa of the flat-fly parasite Crataerina pallida which is host specific to swifts.

Crataerina pallida Pupa

The adult flat-fly is a blood sucking parasite which does not lay an egg, instead it broods the eggs internally, lays a fully formed larva that immediately starts to pupate. When the pupa hatches in the following year, it will try to seek out an adult bird or associate itself with a nest. 

I did manage to find how swifts were getting into the church, and have hopefully resolved that problem but will need to go back in the summer and see how they are getting into the bell tower. My aim will be to try a stop the swift becoming trapped in the first place, but in doing that I don't want to stop bats getting in, I will keep you posted....

Friday, 2 November 2012

Save-the-Whales: Reloaded

My lack of posting recently has been due to a very busy schedule that included working at the World Whale and Whale Watch Conferences (25th and 26th October) and at Whalefest (27th and 28th October) at The Brighton Hilton Metropole. Both conferences were very well represented and record numbers of people attended Whalefest 2012. One of the main objectives from the conferences was to re-launch the Save-the-Whales Campaign, the launch was a great success, but rather than me write my own account I have published the press release from Planet Whale, the driving force behind this new campaign.

‘Save the Whales: Reloaded’ forms new global community

A new global community has been formed to protect whales and dolphins across the world’s oceans.

The alliance was announced following the World Whale Conference held last week at the Hilton Brighton Metropole, Brighton, UK, the hotel where the original moratorium on whaling was signed in 1982.

Over 75 leading environmental and animal protection groups and businesses have committed to Save the Whales: Reloaded, including World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Ocean Alliance, Earthrace Conservation, the American Cetacean Society and many more. The new global alliance will identify and work together to protect whales and dolphins in all of the places where they most need help.

The news was announced by whale and dolphin specialists Planet Whale which orchestrated the alliance, with environmentalists including Bill Oddie and Jean Michel Cousteau already flagging up sites requiring urgent action. Dylan Walker, co-founder of Planet Whale commented:

“Today marks an historic move forward as we galvanise the passion and commitment of the original Save the Whales campaign with Save the Whales: Reloaded. As an active and influential global community we will be using our collective energy and expertise to identify and ring fence new ‘Areas of Concern’ for whales and dolphins across the globe.  Today, we are naming the first three areas we have agreed to tackle and we are already planning to announce thousands more as we seek to ensure the long term protection of all whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans.”

Identifying key locations where whales and dolphins are currently under threat, the alliance has announced the first three sites targeted for immediate action.  These are:

The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary[i]

Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Canadian Marine Environment Protection Society, and Cetacean Society International have come together with some 20 other NGO and business supporters from around the world to re-affirm the need for whaling to end in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and to make it a true sanctuary for whales.

The call comes in a week when the world’s eyes are trained on the Southern Ocean where, in Hobart, Australia, the fate of the proposed 2.4 million km2 Ross Sea Region Marine Reserve and Antarctic reserve network is being decided by CCAMLR — the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources.

Proposed Ross Sea Region Marine Reserve - A NO TAKE ZONE

Says Erich Hoyt, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) Research Fellow and author of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises: “We are calling on every country to make this commitment to whales and the marine ecosystem, stop all fishing there, and to give the strongest possible message for conservation in the global commons and high seas of the great Southern Ocean. This is our big chance; we can’t blow it.”

Save the Whales: Reloaded supporters will campaign against the ongoing slaughter of whales within the sanctuary by the Japanese whaling fleet, and for the creation of an Antarctic reserve network.

New Zealand’s Coastal Waters[ii]

Twenty-two conservation groups and businesses from around the world have joined NABU International in a collective bid to save the Maui and Hector's dolphins as part of the Save the Whales: reloaded Campaign.

Hector's and Maui's dolphins inhabit coastal waters up to a depth of 100 m (red).
Because only a fraction of their home is protected against harmful fishing
methods (green) their numbers continue to dwindle away

Maui and Hector's dolphins are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins on the earth and live only in New Zealand. Over the past four decades, gill-netting and trawling have decimated them almost to the point of extinction. A ban on gill and trawl nets across the species' full range in all waters up to 100m depth is crucial if these dolphins are to recover.

"Saving Hector's and Maui's dolphins is a race against time. They simply can't hang on much longer and need action NOW," says Dr Barbara Maas, Head of International Species Conservation at NABU International.

Dead Maui's Dolphins - A result of becoming entangled in Fishing Nets (Photo Steve Dawson)

"We stand together and call on the new Zealand government to protect Hector's and Maui's dolphins immediately and fully against harmful fishing methods before its too late. If New Zealand fails on this critical conservation challenge, it will damage the country's reputation forever."

Save the Whales: Reloaded supporters will petition the new Zealand government to increase the ban on trawling and set nets along the coastline to extend to the species' full range.

Loro Parque, Tenerife[iii]

Captured two years ago, wild orca Morgan languishes in Loro Parque, a privately owned entertainment park in the Canary Islands. Now, forty seven charities, businesses and delegates at the World Whale Conference have added their support to the Free Morgan Foundation to save Morgan from captivity as part of the Save the Whales: Reloaded campaign. 

Damage to Morgans Rostrum

Morgan has been subjected to attacks and bullying from other orca and is showing signs of severe stress and abnormal behaviours as a result of being subjected to inhumane conditions. 

Morgan being bitten by another captive Orca

Dr Ingrid Visser of the Free Morgan Foundation, who has studied wild and captive orca for more than 20 years said: Morgan is a prime candidate for rehabilitation and release, the only thing that is stopping her return is the money-focused greed of the captivity industry.  Morgan represents all that is wrong with this industry, which claims that keeping these animals is a form of education.  I’ve never heard a word of education out of there yet and all we are teaching is that is OK to abuse animals.” 

Save the Whales: Reloaded supporters will join the Free Morgan Foundation in campaigning for a boycott of the park and the release of Morgan back to the wild.

The global community behind Save the Whales: Reloaded was formed at last week’s World Whale Conference which brought together members of the public, whale and dolphin charities, government agencies and businesses from around the world to share ideas and best practice.  A total of 44 charities and 34 whale watching businesses have committed to Save the Whales: Reloaded, representing 27 countries from every continent apart from Antartica. 

Delegates at the World Whale Watch Conference

“Despite the vote in 1982, the world’s whales have not been saved and they are still not safe,” continued Dylan Walker of Planet Whale.  “Whilst whaling is much reduced, it still remains, and these beautiful creatures are also losing ground to a whole plethora of destructive issues, including over-fishing and drowning in nets, pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and being held captive for entertainment in aquariums. As a community we are committed to our cause and our message today to all those involved in cruelty towards cetaceans and destruction of their natural habitats is clear: we will not stop until you stop.”

Save the Whales - public map their Areas of Concern for whales

Planet Whale is also inviting the public to support Save the Whales: Reloaded and help identify the next generation of Marine Protected Areas.  Visitors to last weekend’s WhaleFest 2012 event in Brighton mapped out an astonishing 1,000 areas of the oceans which they would like to see ring fenced for the protection of wild whale and dolphin communities.  Created using an innovative free online mapping tool, these maps will be combined with others drawn by people across the globe to ensure members of the public, governments, charities and other stakeholders all have a say in the future protection of the oceans.
About Planet Whale
Planet Whale is a global online platform designed to bring together all those interested in the conservation and welfare of whales and dolphins.

Launched in 2010 by whale enthusiasts Dylan Walker and Ian Rowlands, the aim of Planet Whale is to inspire change through a global partnership, harnessing the ideas and passions of individuals across the world to protect whales and dolphins on a global scale.

The website provides an accessible network through which stakeholders can continue the ‘Save the Whales: Reloaded’ concept. The community of whale watchers, operators, businesses and charities can use their collective power to deliver innovative campaigns across the world.

For more information about Planet Whale, please visit

To sign up to the cause and join Save the Whales: Reloaded please visit

Or email us at to register your organisation.
For further information and the full list of organisations committed to Save the Whales: Reloaded please contact:
Karoline Peach, Kate Dwyer or Jessica Beales
Midnight Communications
Tel: 01273 666 200

<!--[if !supportEndnotes]-->

<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[i]<!--[endif]--> The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary
The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1994 to provide long-term protection for a substantial portion of the world's remaining whales by protecting their feeding grounds, yet today more whales are hunted here by the Japanese whaling fleet than in any other location on Earth.

Says Erich Hoyt, WDC Research Fellow and author of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises: “This area has three ecotypes of Killer Whales, Minke and other whales, penguins, seals and seabirds in one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth.”

This week the world’s eyes are trained on the Southern Ocean where, in Hobart, Australia, the fate of the proposed 2.4 million km2 Ross Sea Region Marine Reserve and Antarctic reserve network is being decided. Every country member of CCAMLR — the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources, the body charged with setting up marine reserves in Antarctic waters — must agree to make it happen.

<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[ii]<!--[endif]--> New Zealand’s coastal waters
Since 1970 Hector's dolphin numbers have dropped by more than three quarters. Maui's dolphins, a subspecies of Hector's dolphins off new Zealand's North Island, have been decimated to around 55 individuals and are facing imminent extinction.

At current population levels, Maui's dolphins can only cope with one death due to human activities every 10-23 years, but around five Maui's dolphins die in fishing nets each year. That's 75 times more than the sustainable limit.

"Saving hector's and Maui's dolphins is a race against time. They simply can't hang on much longer and need actuion now" says Barbara Maas, head of International Species Conservation at NABU International. "The New Zealand government is refusing to afford Maui's and Hector's dolphin's the necessary protection. Current and newly proposed protection measures are not nearly enough to allow them to recover."

The world‘s largest conservation assembly, the IUCN World Conservation Congress recently passed a motion that urges New Zealand to extend protection of Maui‘s and Hector‘s dolphins against gillnetting and trawling to a depth of 100 meters offshore to include their entire range. The motion was adopted with 117 governmental and 459 NGO votes in favour. New Zealand alone voted against it.

“Scientists are optimistic that Maui’s can recover if human induced mortality is eliminated”, says Maas. “In line with the IUCN World Conservation Congress’s recommendations, we stand together and call on the New Zealand government to protect Hector‘s and Maui‘s dolphins immediately and fully against harmful fishing methods before it’s too late. If New Zealand fails on this critical conservation challenge, it will damage the country’s reputation forever.”

The New Zealand government has opened a public consultation on the protection of the last 55 Maui's dolphins which runs until 22 November. This process gives everyone the opportunity to have their say by sending a submission through the website

Forty seven charities, businesses and delegates at the World Whale Conference have now added their support to the Free Morgan Foundation to save a wild orca from captivity as part of the Save the Whales: Reloaded campaign. 

Alone and starving, this young female wild orca was recently taken into captivity.  Now called Morgan, she has been subjected to attacks and bullying from other orca.  Morgan is showing signs of severe stress and abnormal behaviours as a result of being subjected to inhumane conditions.  Originally captured under the guise of rehabilitation and release, she is being kept because the entertainment industry desperately needs a new blood line for their extremely inbred captive orca population. 

Held at the entertainment Park, Loro Parque, in the Canary Islands, Spain, Morgan is made to perform circus tricks for a paying audience.  Yet between shows trainers neglect and ignore her and just standby whilst the other orca attack her.  Morgan is not provided veterinarian care for her resulting wounds.

More than 5,500 whales and dolphins have died in captivity.  In the wild, the average age for orca is more than 30 years with some orca known to live well past 80, however, in captivity the average life span is less than 9 years.  Morgan has been in captivity for just over two years, but she has spent more of her life in the open ocean than in a tank.  There is a comprehensive release plan in place to help Morgan return to her family in Norway. 

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