Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Garden Bird Ringing January 2013

Bird ringing at my usual haunts has been somewhat disappointing of late and so rather than risking another disappointing session, I opted for a bit of garden ringing for this session. On the plus side this would mean that I could fall out of bed and have the nets open within five minutes, but on the negative side it would mean that I would catch loads of blue and great tits, and probably not much else. The day started as expected and before long I had a net full of blue and great tits, which consisted of mainly retraps but also a few new ones. 

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus - one of 23 birds captured during the garden ringing session. of
those captured 15 were retraps, two of which were originally ringed over four years ago,
one on 6th December 2008 and one on 31st December 2008. 

There have been two great spots Dendrocopos major, one male and one female, frequenting the garden and both of them were squabbling over the peanut feeder, before the female ventured into the net. This bird was very easy to age since it had an obvious contrast in the greater coverts, showing  the difference between old juvenile and newer adult type feathers. A retrap dunnock Prunella mondularis was a bird from just over a year ago, and new song thrush Turdus philomelos and blackbird Turdus merula were worthy rewards for my efforts, before two pied wagtails Motacilla alba ssp. yarrellii dropped into the net. 

Pied wagtail - first year bird

Over the last few winters one or two pied wagtails, and the occasional white wagtail Motacilla alba ssp. alba have spent much of the winter in my garden, and as a result I usually end up catching one or two. These two birds, I am presuming they are the same two, had been frequenting the garden all through the recent cold snap and heavy snow, so it was not really a surprise to catch them, but a welcome break from blue tits.

Pied Wagtail - First winter bird - there is an obvious contrast between the outer wing
(primary coverts, primaries, secondaries, alula etc) and the inner wing
(lesser, medium and majority of greater coverts). Note the two outermost greater
coverts, which are retained juvenile feathers. The general coluration of the outer wing is
brown-ish as opposed to dark grey below.

The moult strategy of this species is similar to that of many passerines, in that adult birds undergo a complete moult in the summer, post breeding, whereas juvenile birds only undergo a partial moult. The result of this I have discussed before, but essentially it means that a contrast will be visible between the old juvenile feathers and new adult feathers. Luckily I caught one adult and one first year bird, which was ideal for comparison.

Pied Wagtail - Adult bird - note the general colouration of the wing (dark grey) and the broad
primaries with a pale tip on the outer edge of the feather. In addition, there is no contrast/break
in the greater coverts and the primary coverts are broad and tipped white.

At one point I noticed a male Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus on the peanut feeder, a species that was very common in my garden six or seven years ago, but recently I have not recorded them. I watched the bird for a while before it flew off, so I was surprised to find, that not only had it come back but I had caught it.

Eurasian Siskin - male bird - note the black crown, and extensive yellow
 to the sides of the head and breast

Adult siskins undergo a complete moult post breeding, whereas juvenile birds usually undergo a partial moult, and so there will typically be a contrast between juvenile and adult feathers in the greater coverts. In addition the tails feathers on juvenile birds are usually pointed and show a high level of wear. This bird showed no discernible break in the greater coverts and the tails feathers were broad and rounded, with very little wear, therefore this bird was aged as an adult.

By the end of the session I had captured 42 birds of 11 species; more than half of the birds were blue tits, but they still provided some interesting retrap data. The variety of species ringed was unexpected so it was definitely worth the effort.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Patch Listing in the Snow

Last year I decided to take part in some Hampshire patch listing and opted for a 5km x 5km square covering my home, Curbridge and part of Manor Farm Country Park. I have to admit that my effort was sporadic to say the least, and I ended 2012 with a total of 121 species recorded on 'my patch'. This year I have decided to patch list again, covering the same patch, and with the aim of beating last years total. To make things more interesting, during quieter birding periods, I am also going to record other taxa that I encounter, such as mammals, butterflies and dragonflies etc., hopefully this will make my posts more varied!

A view of my Patch

My patch listing activity during 2013 to date has been limited to the area around my house,  a couple of visits to Manor Farm Country Park and a snowy visit to Curbridge. My garden has provided the usual suspects, with the common tit species bolstered with the usual wintering marsh tit, great spotted and green woodpecker, nuthatch, house sparrow and sparrowhawk. The surrounding area, in particular the River Meon valley and surrounding patches of woodland have, unsurprisingly produced a greater range of species, after the recent snow, some of these have become more visible. On the 13th January I wandered around the local woods and was rewarded with siskin, mistle thrush, nuthatch, goldcrest and the star bird of the day a cracking male firecrest.

Flooded meadows, a bird feeding Haven

Today I ventured out into a snow covered landscape, starting at the River Meon, where the high water levels are still breaching the river banks and flowing across the adjacent fields. With most of the grass snow covered, the flowing flushes were the best areas for feeding birds, and they flocked to them, 20 lapwing, 11 snipe, over 70 fieldfare, 80 redwing and a grey wagtail were present. A mixed flock of finches including siskin, lesser redpoll and goldfinches were also present in the alder trees, occasionally dropping down to the flush to drink.

Curbridge - on the rising tide

Moving on, my next stop was Curbridge; I had timed my visit to coincide with the rising tide in the hope of seeing birds that were pushed further up the estuary as the mud further down stream was covered up. My timing was perfect and I was able to add common redshank, greenshank, curlew, oystercatcher and common sandpiper to my patch list. Two little egrets and a mixed flock of several hundred gulls, black-headed, common, herring and lesser black-backed, were also present.

Greenshank, Curbridge

So by 19th January my patch list stands at 67 species, the recent snow has certainly made some species more visible, so whilst its still hanging around I will make to most of it, and back out again tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

January Ramblings

A combination of a busy social calendar and short days has meant I have had little time for birding and blogging activities, and to be honest there has not been much to report. I did manage a bit of a New Years Day bash around a few local sites, which produced about 70 species, including a red-throated diver in Stoke's Bay, Gosport, very close to the shore, an adult Mediterranean Gull at Walpole Park, and of course the regular ring-billed gull that winters at this site. I cannot remember exactly how many years this bird has been returning to this site, but I think this is its 10th year, which is quite amazing.

Looking Down the Throat of a Ring-billed Gull

The light was fantastic the morning of New Years Day, and so I had the opportunity to get more photos of this very confiding bird. At one point the bird was trying to swallow some food stuck in its gullet, and gave some interesting views of the inside of its bill and throat, unfortunately in my haste to get the shot my focus was slightly off, but you can still get the picture.

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Identifying an adult ring-billed gull is as straight forward as it gets, the pale iris, yellow legs and bill, and broad black band across the upper and lower mandible, are all good features which will clinch the species' ID.

Adult Ring-billed Gull

Bird ringing activity has been limited to four mist netting sessions one nocturnal wander around Manor Farm Country Park in search of woodcocks. There was no joy with the latter, in fact, I did not see a single woodcock, in stark contrast to last year when there was a peak of 12 birds on one visit.

Eurasian Nuthatch - A retrapped bird from early December 2012

Two garden ringing sessions have produced the usual blue and great tits, a retrap nuthatch, coal tit, a large flock of long-tailed tits and a few goldfinches.

Long-tailed Tit - One of 12 Birds Captured Today

Ringing sessions at Manor farm have been relatively quiet numbers wise, but have provided a bit of diversity including blackbirds, song thrushes, redwings, chaffinches and goldcrests. A stunning adult male pied wagtail was caught out by my single shelf nets, the only one of over 12 birds feeding in the fields.

Adult Male Pied Wagtail

With no contrast in the greater coverts, its very dark upperparts and pure white forehead, this bird was easy to age and sex.

All dark rump and back of adult male Pied Wagtail

So far this year I have caught five bullfinches, four females and one male, all of them were first winter birds. One of the birds was infected with the mite Knemidocoptes mutans making the leg very crusty and too large to take and A size ring, so I had to let it go un-ringed.

Bullfinch leg infected with the mite Knemidocoptes mutans 

Of all the birds captured, several were retraps, the most notable being an adult goldcrest that was first ringed as a first year bird in November 2010, 2 years and 58 days previously.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year and a Barley Bird in France

After a frustrating week without any broadband connection I would like to start this blog by wishing all readers of this blog my best wishes for 2013, and may your year be filled with many wildlife adventures.

I thought I would start this year with news of an interesting recovery of one of the nightingales that I had previously ringed at Botley Wood, Hampshire in April 2011. The bird was originally ringed on 21st April 2011, as a first year, therefore hatched in the summer of 2010. It was fitted with individually identifiable colour rings, but unfortunately it was not these that generated the recovery.

First Year Common Nightingale 21st April 2011

On the 27th June 2012 (433 days after its original ringing date), this bird was found freshly dead in the Vienne region of France 488 kilometres to the south of its original ringing site, having hit glass. This is the first foreign recovery of one of the Botley Wood ringed nightingales which is exciting in itself, but the date of the recovery is something that has got me thinking. 

Common nightingales typically arrive at Botley Wood from mid April and are usually paired up and nesting by mid May. Their chicks tend to hatch around early to mid June and by late June/early July they are fledging the nest. From mid to late July adults undergo a complete moult before migrating around early to mid August. Adult birds show a high degree of site fidelity, and will return to the same territory year after year, so seeing that this bird had been recovered in France in late June got me thinking what it was doing there.

My first thought was that the bird had failed to find a mate in the previous year and had decided to stay in France to breed during the 2012 breeding season. This strikes me as very unusual behaviour, given the level of site fidelity previously exhibited by the species at Botley Wood. Alternatively, it could be that this bird usually breeds in this region of France but had over shot the previous year and ended up at Botley Wood.

My second thought was that the bird had returned to Botley Wood but had not been a successful breeder during 2012 and therefore had began its autumn migration early. There are two reasons why this may have happened; the weather during 2012 was very bad and many species had poor breeding success, given that nightingales are only single brooded in the UK, a failure could instigate an early southward movement. This was certainly experienced with some species during 2012, whereas as other species stayed on their breeding grounds and had very late broods. The second reason may be due to a lack of habitat at the breeding site. During 2012 the National Grid replaced overhead power cables that pass over parts of the site, in doing this they removed all of the scrub where this bird was holding a territory in 2011. Therefore it may have returned and been unable to find a suitable nesting location and/or a mate and moved back south.

My third thought was that the bird had been held up on its northward migration due to bad weather over the Mediterranean in the spring, but a delay of two months from its normal arrival date is probably too much of a delay for this to be the case.

Unfortunately I will never know the answer but it is still a very interesting recovery that will keep me wondering for a while yet.
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