Friday, 14 June 2013

A bit of Goshawk pulli ringing....

On Friday 7th June I was invited by a good friend, Wayne Percy, to assist with the ringing of Northern Goshawk chicks in the New Forest. Wayne has spent the last 20+ years studying raptors in the forest and his claim to fame is finding the first ever breeding pair there. Since then the local raptor group has been ringing the expanding population; it was now my turn to get in on the act. Several nests had already been checked and the chicks ringed, but there were four still to do. 

As we approached the first nest it was fairly obvious, both from its size and location what it was, it was also fairly obvious that the two chicks were too large to ring. 

Goshawk nest set about 18 metres up a tree. Note the large nest
located two thirds of the way up the trunk.

The nest was massive and set about 18 metres up the tree, right next to the trunk. Moving in closer we could see our first chick, it was sat right on the edge of the nest, looking down on us as we approached. Another which looked even larger was sat just behind. Apparently a good indication of whether a bird is too large to ring is the amount of down still on the head, both these birds had none, so we didn't risk going up to the nest. We watched them briefly, and both the parents who were circling overhead, before gathering up our kit and moving to the next nest.

Large Goshawk chick looking down on frustrated ringing group!

Our second nest was more successful - two chicks, one male and one female were present and both looked to be a good size for ringing. The nests are always located high up in a tree and considerable effort and tree climbing skills are required. But once the chicks have been lowered to the ground and lifted out of the bag you can see that all the effort was worth it.

My first Goshawk!
My first Goshawk chick and what a cracker! This male had a grey iris, chestnut feathering to the head and breast and a grey mantle. The birds were surprisingly docile in the hand but I was still mindful of the fearsome looking bill and talons whilst holding them.

Female goshawk...what an awesome bird!

Size is always a difficult thing to gauge, and having only seen goshawks in the field before, I was very surprised by their enormous size, particularly the females that is. There is considerable sexual size dimorphism in many raptor species and in goshawks (and sparrowhawks) it is very evident. The wing span of a male ranges between 90 - 105 cm whereas a female ranges from 108 - 120 cm, for comparison the wingspan of a buzzard ranges between 110 - 130 cm. Interestingly though the tarsus of a female goshawk is larger than that of a buzzard; it takes an 'H' size ring rather than the 'G' size that the buzzard and the male goshawk takes.

Goshawk Chick - slightly bedraggled after morning rain

Success again at the third nest, this time three chicks, two females and a male, all downy young and a nice manageable size for ringing.

Downy Goshawk chick, the youngest of the day but still a good weight

Given that these birds were so easy to handle I took a pic of their tarsi to illustrate the difference in size between the male and female birds. It is quite obvious and when compared with the thumb holding one of the birds it is possible to see just how large these birds are.

Comparison of male (upper) and female (lower) legs.
The thumb in the top left hand corner gives a good indication of the size of these birds,
particularly the hind claw of the female

Our fourth and final nest was located on a limb at least 25m up a tree, and required some excellent climbing skills. We could not see into the nest to see whether it was occupied, but as we walked into the copse a female goshawk began calling loudly, so we had a pretty good clue that it was.

Climbing up to the nest 25 metres up!

And after what seemed a never ending climb to the nest, and several close passes from a female goshawk, that to be honest was more reminiscent of a macaw since it was moulting its outer tail feathers, we had three more chicks. 

Three very healthy chicks - two females in the foreground with the male at the
back being lifted out of the weighing bag

Two more females and one male. Once again the birds were very placid and seemed to just accept what was happening around them, I wish kestrel chicks were as docile as this!

Slightly bedraggled chick after a rain shower

By the end of the day I had ringed eight goshawk chicks and had some fantastic views of both male and female adults. These birds look extremely fearsome but they were a delight to handle and I ended the day without so much as a scratch on me.....amazing thanks Wayne!

Goshawk chick - it's important to keep an eye/hand on the talons!

As a footnote to this post, on the very next day, Saturday 8th June, I was loading up my car with ringing kit to go a check my owl/kestrel boxes when a cat got in my house. The bugger ran up stairs into my bedroom and I just could not get it out! Eventually I managed to grab it but in doing so it sank its teeth into my hand and its claws into my arm. By Saturday night my arm was double its normal size and I was on antibiotics. By Monday morning I was in casualty on intravenous antibiotics and being prepared for surgery to open the wounds and clean them. After three days in hospital I was released but still have four nasty open wounds on my arms and am on antibiotics. I not sure what the moral of the story is here, but I certainly will think twice before tackling a domestic cat with my bare hands in future, but will have no hesitation in handling another goshawk!!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

In search of Lapwing Chicks on a rare almost Summers Evening

I had a couple of hours free last night and so nipped down to one of my local sites in search of Lapwing chicks. I have been visiting this site for about five years now and usually manage to catch two or three chicks, but this year I was a bit later and feared that they may already be too big. Arriving at the site it was evident that it had not been grazed for a while, and large parts had become dominated with a dense growth of rush. However, not to be deterred I worked my way to a suitable vantage point and began to scan.

Success was almost immediate as a good sized chick sat preening in an area of shorter vegetation. The chicks seem to prefer the shorter areas, which is odd since this site has large numbers of corvids present, and to be so obvious would presumably leave them susceptible to predation. 

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus chick

This chick was very on-the-ball though and the second the adult uttered an alarm call it settled down into the nearby vegetation and waited for the all clear. Luckily I had a good fix!

Lapwing Chick Camouflaged in the Grass

It was a good sized chick and when settled in the grass was very well camouflaged and weighed a very healthy 70.2 grams. For comparison adult birds weigh between 192 and 310 grams, according to BTO data.  When being weighed this bird seemed to be quite unperturbed and was content to watch what I was doing from the ringing pot!

Lapwing Chick enjoying the view from the Ringing Pot
(with free advertising for Swarovski)

There appeared to be three pairs present at the site and given that the average clutch size for this species is four, there had to be more chicks around. The problem was that once the adults alarm call the chick tend to site still for quite a while, so I wasn't hopeful of finding more. I moved location and began to scan from the other end of the field and immediately picked up a second bird. This bird was much smaller and probably still a little naive, but fortunately its legs were large enough to take a ring.

Tiny Lapwing Chick .... Just big enough to ring

This bird weighed only 19.3 grams, so considerably smaller, and clearly from a different clutch to the first bird, and I still suspect there will be more to find.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Creech Woods, Denmead - May 2013

On Friday 31st May I had to opportunity to spend a couple of hours walking around Creech Woods, near Demead, Hampshire. The site is part of the Forestry Commissions estate, and was historically part of the Forest of Bere. Large parts of the site comprise conifer plantation, but there are some areas, where low scrub and woodland clearings and rides are present. It was these areas that proved to be the most interesting for wildlife. It is a site that absorbs a lot of public recreational pressure and whilst I was there I encountered over 20 visitors with at least half of those having a free running dog. But despite the disturbance there were areas that were less disturbance and subsequently had a good mix of species.

The bird life was fairly typical for a woodland with chiffchaffs, blackcaps, great spotted woodpeckers, blackbirds, wrens and blue and great tits present. But in areas where it was less disturbed and the habitat was more suitable, willow warblers, garden warblers, firecrest and bullfinch were recorded. In the north of the site pylons run overhead, and these made the ideal perch for a couple of common ravens to make their presence known.

Bugle Ajuga reptans was a very common species along the woodland rides

The woodland rides were dominated with bugle and this proved to be a popular nectaring source for bumblebees and hoverflies. A large puddle on one of the woodland rides turned out be be very popular for a couple of broad-bodied chasers. 

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa: A male standing guard whilst the female was egg laying

Whilst the male stood guard on a nearby twig, seeing off any other males, the female set about the business of egg laying. The puddle where they had set up territory did not give the impression of being very permanent and therefore I presume that the larvae will find it difficult to survive as summer progresses and the pond dries out. Unless this summer is as wet as last summer that is!

Female Broad-bodied Chaser egg-laying: This individual was in flight hence the blurred wings

It appeared that there had been a recent emergence of large red damselflies also, as I recorded this species commonly during my visit. The adults of this species typically emerge from late April and can be seen through to the end of September. The cold weather during March and April has delayed the emergence of many dragonfly species, but they seem to be very widespread now.

Female Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Butterfly species were fairly thin on the ground with the most common species being speckled wood and orange tip. A very confiding green-veined white was the only other species recorded.

 Female Green-veined White Pieris napi

Given the very strong markings on this individual it looks to be a female. The first brood females of this species are usually much more heavily marked than the males, particularly of the upperside of the wings. The males can appear almost white.
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