Thursday, 31 October 2013

Titchfield Haven - Late October 2013 Bird Ringing Update

With the bird ringing season at Titchfield Haven rapidly approaching it's close, the number of birds ringed is dropping off dramatically. Migration is of course still in full swing, but it is the arrival of winter thrushes and finches that predominate now, and these species do not venture into our ringing area very much. That said there is still the chance of the odd rarity, as was demonstrated on Saturday when we ringed our first Radde's warbler, so we will keep going for a few weeks yet. weather permitting.

Up to the 26th October we had ringed 4037 new birds of 39 species, and had re-trapped/recovered a further 253 birds, bringing the grand total to 4290 birds. Barry Duffin has been keeping a tally of birds ringed since 1973, and this years total represents the fourth highest total of all time. I know I have referred to 2011 many times, but it was an exceptional year with 5194 new birds ringed.  In 2002 a total of 4923 new birds were ringed, but that year is skewed since we ringed a two different locations on the reserve. The third best year is 2004 when 4276 new birds were ringed. The grand total of birds ringed since 1973 now stands at 77,724 of 118 species. This total includes all birds that have ever been ringed, and in the early years the ringing effort was more random. Since 1998 we have ringed with a more structured effort, only doing three sessions a week, and where possible opening the same number of nets. This therefore enables us to draw some comparison between different years in that period.

Total ringing captures at Titchfield Haven for 2013

Looking again at the nine sample species that we have chosen for comparison over the last four years, it would appear that there has been some good productivity for most species. Sedge warbler numbers have been excellent with the total of 1431, only five birds short of the best ever total. Reed warbler numbers also seem to have recovered from last years low; the 608 birds ringed is the second highest total ever. Willow warbler numbers recovered from what looked like was going to be a bad year; 138 birds is the sixth highest total.

We tend to judge grasshopper warbler numbers on that stunning total of 950 birds in 2011, but that was clearly an exceptional year for the species. The 318 birds ringed this year although the lowest for the last five years, is still the sixth highest total. This total may indicate a more difficult breeding season for this species, it will be interesting to see what the national trend is. The three species of Sylvia warbler, Garden, Blackcap and Whitethroat, all appear to have had a good year too, with the third, fifth and second highest totals, respectively. The whitethroat total was only the third time we have captured more than 100 birds in a season.

This year the chiffchaff number were boosted in the early season by a good breeding population in the ringing area. In the mid season the numbers dropped, but as is typical of this late migrant the numbers picked up again in the late season. The total of 377 is the third highest total. And finally Cetti's warbler, a species which has a stronghold at the Haven and after a couple of hard winters, which resulted in a reduced population, this year has seen the third highest number of birds ringed ever.

A couple of other species that seem to have had a good year are robin and song thrush. But these totals have been boosted in the last couple of weeks by an influx of birds from the continent. This is something which hasn't yet happened for goldcrest and firecrest as we have so far ringed only 7 goldcrests and no firecrests, compared with 56 and seven, respectively last year.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Radde's Warbler - Titchfield Haven October 2013

You can image my surprise when I got the call this morning to say that we would be ringing at the Haven, I had looked at the weather last night and it looked as if it would be far too windy. Fortunately the winds were from the south-west and therefore much of the ringing area was sheltered. You can image my even greater surprise when one of the birds we trapped was a Radde's Warbler, the first to be ringed at the Haven and only the 3rd for Hampshire. Having spent several hours trying to see the Andover bird, only to get frustratingly brief views, it was a real treat to get the opportunity to look at one close up.  

Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi - First year Titchfield Haven

In the hand the bird appeared smaller than it did in the field, but the most striking features were the broad and long supercilia, sturdy bill, the very bright yellow underparts and the yellowish-pink legs.

Radde's Warbler - Titchfield Haven

The upperparts were a warm olive brown colour with little contrast between the rump and tail. The brightness of the underparts, very pointed tail feathers and lack of abrasion on the primary tips were all evidence of this bird being a first year. 

Bright yellowish underparts and rich-buff under tail coverts

The wing point was formed by the 3rd, 4th and 5th primaries, and interestingly the 4th and 5th primaries seemed slightly longer than the third. This is contrary to Svensson which suggests that the wing point for Radde's is formed by the 3rd and 4th primaries and occasionally the 5th. However, the wing point of dusky warbler, the most likely confusion species, is formed by the 4th and 5th primaries. Clearly this area needs more research, maybe that is one for the next version of Svensson!

Open Wing of Radde's Warbler

Given the generally windy overnight weather conditions, it was not surprising that we didn't catch many birds, in fact we finished the session with less than 10 new birds. But it was definitely a case of quality not quantity.

Monday, 21 October 2013

More Fruits of Our Labour - Bird Ringing at Titchfield Haven

With no ringing activity to report, due to recent bad weather I thought that it was time to publish some more controls and recoveries of birds captured at the Haven. So far we have had 36 birds, either controlled at the Haven or recovered elsewhere, but as is often the case we are yet to hear back from the BTO for many of them. The species to date include sedge warbler, reed warbler, blackcap, chiffchaff and one avocet. 

The pied avocet story is an amazing one, on 24th June 2002 the first pair of avocets bred at Hook with Warsash, Local Nature Reserve. They had two chicks but an out of control dog entered the reserve and disturbed the birds which resulted in them walking along the foreshore with the parents flying overhead trying to protect them. The commotion was such that it alerted the wardens at the Haven, who went out and rescued the birds and released them onto the scrapes at the Haven, with the adults following. However before releasing them, the chicks were ringed. In May 2005, one of the chicks was recaptured in The Netherlands and colour-ringed. In April of this year, the same bird was re-sighted, still in The Netherlands nearly 11 years since ringing! A fantastic success story that could had easily ended in disaster had the dog got hold of them.

The other records are not as spectacular but nonetheless they still make interesting reading, we for us anyway!
Species Ring No.TypeAge  Capture
Pied Avocet
EP32564     N1J24/06/2002 Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
CRecaptured25/05/2005Schuytgraaf, Arnhem, Gelderland, Netherlands (508 km, ENE, 2 yrs 335 days)
SSighted29/04/2013Makkum, Friesland, Netherlands (516 km, ENE, 10 yrs 309days)
Sedge Warbler
D006104     N4M25/05/2013Slimbridge, Gloucestershire
C4Recaptured13/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (129 km, SE, 80 days)
D037938     N3J29/06/2013Levington, near River Orwell, Suffolk
C3Recaptured02/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (217 km, SW, 34 days)
D295240     N3J17/07/2013Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire
C3Recaptured06/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (297 km, ESE, 20 days)
Y380974     N3J15/07/2012Oxmoor Wood, Halton
C4Recaptured10/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (298 km, SSE, 1 yr 26days)
Y544401     N3J25/08/2013Thatcham Marsh, West Berkshire
C3Recaptured27/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (65 km, S, 2 days)
Y640780     N4M14/07/2013Saltholme, near Teesmouth, Stockton-on-Tees
C4Recaptured26/07/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (420 km, S, 12 days)
Y818091     N424/08/2012Hollesley Heath, Suffolk
C4FRecaptured06/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (231 km, SW, 347 days)
Y911301     N330/07/2012Icklesham, East Sussex
C4Recaptured28/04/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (135 km, W, 272 days)
Y456636N405/08/2012Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C4Recaptured04/05/2013Mains of Auchenfranco, Lockfoot, Dumfries and Galloway (497 km, NNW, 272 days)
Y717998     N306/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C3Recaptured08/08/2013Bude Marshes Nature Reserve, Cornwall (230 km, W, 2 days)
Reed Warbler
D333221     N3J07/07/2013Leighton Moss, Lancashire
C3Recaptured10/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (387 km, SSE, 34 days)
V215858     N3J04/08/2007Woolston Eyes, Warrington
C4Recaptured10/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire     (298 km, SSE, 6 yrs 6 days)
Y534178     N3J23/08/2012Cardiff Wetland Reserve, Cardiff
C4Recaptured06/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (152 km, ESE, 348 days)
Y611556     N405/07/2013Corsham Lake, Wiltshire
C4FRecaptured11/07/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (94 km, SE, 6 days)
Y634363     N4M05/05/2013Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, Buckinghamshire
C4Recaptured11/07/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (116 km, SSW, 67 days)
Y675226     N4F30/06/2013Woolston Eyes, Warrington
C4Recaptured10/08/2013Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (298 km, SSE, 41 days)
L590229     N302/08/2011Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C4Recaptured16/06/2013Chew Valley Lake, Avon, Bath and N. E. Somerset (111 km, WNW, 1 yr 318days)
C4Recaptured25/06/2013Chew Valley Lake, Avon, Bath and N. E. Somerset (111 km, WNW, 1 yr 327days)
T617835     N326/07/2008Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C4MRecaptured16/07/2013Stortons Gravel Pits, Northampton, Northamptonshire (159 km, N, 4 yrs 
T617836     N426/07/2008Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C4MRecaptured25/06/2013Stortons Gravel Pits, Northampton, Northamptonshire (159 km, N, 4 yrs 334 days)
Y315442     N323/09/2011Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
R3Recaptured29/09/2011Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire (6 days)

4MRecaptured22/05/2013Haseley Manor, Arreton, Isle of Wight (17 km, S, 1 yr 241days)
Y456091     N404/08/2012Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
C427/06/2013Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire (178 km, N, 327 days

Saturday, 19 October 2013

A Semi-palmated Plover in Hampshire!!!

You can image my surprise when on the afternoon of Thursday 17th October, I received an email with pictures of a 1st winter semi-palmated plover at Black Point on Hayling Island. Not only was this another first for Hampshire, following quickly in the footsteps of the brown shrike, but this was also only the fourth record of this species in the British Isles, and only the second mainland record. The bird had been found by Andy Johnson at around 9:30, but after an hour it had flown off and had not been relocated.

Unfortunately I was office bound on the Friday, and would not be able to escape, so when news broke that the bird had returned to the same high tide roost, I was feeling pretty despondent. Fortunately, it was nearly the weekend and so I only had to wait until today to have a chance of seeing it. I arrived at Black Point early as I didn't want to risk missing the bird, or not being able to park nearby and having to walk miles. It was surprisingly quiet when I arrived, with only a few birders wandering around, but as the tide began to rise the bird numbers increased as did the birders. A small flock of common ringed plovers were the first birds to turn up, followed by dunlin and then a large flock of sanderling. 

This photo of the Semi-palmated plover Charadrius semipalmatus was taken 
by Andy Johnson on the day of the find. Note the difference in size, bill shape 
and the obvious white 'wedge' at the base of the bill.

After some initial stringing by the assembled birders, we had soon found the semi-p. It was feeding at the right hand (eastern) end of the flock, but just as I started to grill the bird it flew off. As the birds flew around we could hear the distinctive "chewit" call of the semi-p; in fact it was this call that initially alerted Andy to the presence of the bird on Thursday. The bird soon settled back down and we quickly got back onto it, unfortunately after a further 5 - 10 minutes the flock was flushed again.....this time the birds did not return.

Another Photo by Andy Johnson - Again the smaller size is
evident in this shot, stubby bill and the pale eye ring.
The white 'wedge' is again very obvious.

A few minutes later the ringed plover flock, with the semi-p, was relocated on the seafront between the Nab car park and Eastoke Corner, between groynes 24 and 25. It stayed there for quite a while allowing many to enjoy it. A cracking find well done Andy.

Another Andy Johnson photo showing the stubby bill, pale eye ring
and white 'wedge'.

But of course the semi-p and brown shrike are just the two National megas in Hampshire this autumn! The last couple of weeks has been unprecedented for Hampshire birding, and has seen a dusky warbler turn up at Sandy Point and a Radde's warbler turn up near Andover. The dusky was again found by Andy Johnson, and is only the second for Hampshire; the first was also at Sandy Point and found by Andy a couple of years ago. This latest bird was extremely elusive and tended to frustrate the birders who went to see it. Once again I was office bound and unable to see it, and by the time the weekend came it was gone, fortunately I saw the first bird but would have like to have seen another.

This image of the Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus was taken by Alan Lewis.
The bird had proved to be particularly elusive, but in this image it is possible to see
the dull grey-brown underparts, the dull legs and the buff-brown supercilium.

The other cracking find was that of the Radde's warbler at Anton Lakes Country Park near Andover by Joe Stockwell. Joe is the assistant warden at Portland Bill Bird Observatory and had come home for the weekend to visit his parents. A bit of early morning birding resulted in this find. The Radde's was also the second record for Hampshire, although the first was suppressed, for some unknown reason. This latest bird was found on Sunday 13th, but the on-set of heavy rain meant the bird became extremely elusive. I dipped it on the Sunday and had to make a second visit on Tuesday; the bird was very elusive but I eventually got tick-able views. Whilst there I also heard a yellow-browed warbler calling but did not try to look for it as the Radde's was proving so difficult to find.

This image of the Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi was taken by Joe Stockwell on the
day of finding. Apparently Joe also picked this bird up on call first; this image clearly shows the
broad and pale supercilium and strikingly pale legs.

Unfortunately the Radde's Warbler twitch on Sunday 13th October will be memorable to many for the different reasons than the bird. It turned out to be a very sad day as one of Hampshire's top birders, Tim Lawman, collapsed and died at the site. I had known Tim since my early birding days visiting Titchfield Haven in the early 1980's, and he was a regular at the majority of Hampshire twitches. Tim currently holds the biggest published Hampshire bird list and was responsible for finding numerous rare birds in the County. He will be sadly missed by the Hampshire Birding community - RIP Tim.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Titchfield Haven - Early October 2013 Update

Well it is already early October and the ringing season at The Haven is slowly drawing to a close. But the season is not yet over and as I write this there are still blackcaps and chiffchaffs moving through in good numbers, yellow-browed warblers are now scattered around the county and a dusky warbler turned up this week. Other eastern vagrants are also present throughout the adjacent counties, but once again it is Shetland and Scilly that seem to be getting the bulk of the rare migrants. 

The weather had been set fair for a while now and this has undoubtedly boosted the ringing totals of some species at the Haven, but without question it appears to have been a good breeding season. As of the 5th October we have ringed 3882 new birds and retrapped/recovered 221, bringing the total number of birds handled to 4103 since the 10th July. This may not be a massive total for many, but for us this constitutes the fourth highest total in 40 years of ringing at the site.

By looking at the captures of the last four years of the usual nine species, the same trend has continued throughout the season. Sedge Warbler numbers are on a par with 2011, which was the record year and reed warbler numbers are the second highest ever. Willow warbler numbers picked up after a slow start, and are now above the 2011 total, but grasshopper warbler has only reached 314, the sixth highest total and still amazing when compared with national totals.

The garden warbler total is the third highest ever, whereas chiffchaff and blackcap currently are the fifth highest totals ever. The total of 122 whitethroats is the second highest total ever and only the third time the site has caught more than 100 birds. Cetti's warbler appears to have had a good breeding season with again the fifth highest total ever recorded.

The 4103 total has been made up of 36 different species with the most notable being the one wryneck, one tree pipit, five redstarts, six lesser whitethroats, one wood warbler and four spotted flycatchers. We have had news from the BTO of several recoveries and we have captured several controls, I will be posting some data shortly.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Meadow Pipit Ringing at Farlington Marshes

It has been an interesting week that started with the finding of a yellow-browed warbler at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Testwood Lakes reserve. I was at the site for a staff meeting and had arranged with a colleague to go birding at lunchtime in search of one. Whilst standing at our cars getting our binoculars we heard one calling, and immediately found it in a small patch of scrub. The story of the find is here. Saturday morning proved very busy with an unseasonably high number of birds ringed at Titchfield Haven (I will write about that later) and today was another busy day, but this time at Farlington Marshes.

The Sun Rising over Farlington Marshes

Today began with a pre-dawn start at the Marsh. The aim was to try and catch some meadow pipits out in the point field, and so we had to arrive early to get the nets up. The method for catching meadow pipits involves putting three nets in a triangle, around an isolated shrub. A recording of their song in the middle attracts the birds into the trapping area. We only put up four nets, two in two small areas of scrub and two in a right angle around a small bush. We didn't quite follow the normal method, but were convinced it would work.

Our Pipits Nets Set in a Right Angle

Our first net round produced a handful of blackcaps and a couple of robins. The next round added a few more blackcaps and our first meadow pipits; after that it was mainly meadow pipits. We ended the session on 88 birds, 54 of which were meadow pipits; blackcap was the next most numerous species. The other species included chiffchaff, greenfinch, dunnock, robin, sedge warbler and right at the end of the session a handful of starling.

A flock of several hundred starlings made a spectacular sight, particularly
as they were wheeling around overhead harassing a couple of kestrels. We
were fortunate in that the flock tended to miss our nets except on one occasion
when six  birds were caught.

Ageing meadow pipits is not something that I have covered before so having had the chance to study so many birds it seems like the ideal time to do it. Adult meadow pipits undergo a complete moult after breeding, whereas juvenile birds only do a partial moult. This means that in the autumn there should be evidence of juvenile feathers in the wing. 

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis - note the long hind claw in this image. The most
likely confusion species in the British Isles, Tree Pipit A. trivialis
has a much shorter hind claw.

According to Svensson some birds moult a number of their medium and greater coverts and tertials, therefore birds should be identifiable by the contrast between the new (adult) and old (juvenile) feathers. Adult birds on the other hand will have wing feathers, all of the same generation and therefore no contrast will be present. The following series of photos illustrate this.

The image above illustrates a bird that was presumed to be an adult since there was no obvious moult limit in the wing, and the fringing on the greater and medium coverts and tertials is olive-buff in colouration. The 'tooth' on the medium coverts is also not strongly pronounced. This bird had previously lost its tail and was in the process of moulting it back in.

The image above illustrates an example of a first year birds wing. The greater coverts are pale fringed with the exception of the second covert from the left. This feather is an adult type feather and is strongly coloured buff.

In the image above it is possible to see the pronounced 'tooth' of the first year type medium coverts. The majority of the greater coverts are adult type feathers, with the exception of the innermost covert.

Above is another example of a first year birds wing. It is possible to see the contrast between the juvenile and adult coverts in the medium and greater coverts. In addition the two uppermost tertials have been replaced, but the lower one is still juvenile.

The majority of the tail in the image above is adult, but it is possible to see one remaining juvenile tail feather (the lower of the two central tail feathers). This image illustrates the difference in colour and shape with adult feather broader, more rounded at the tip and strongly coloured buff. The amount of wear on the tail feathers, their shape and the extent of white in the outer tail feathers was a very useful feature.

The most notable thing with handling so many birds was the difference in colouration between individuals. Some first year birds had very pale, almost white fringing, whereas others has fringing coloured similar to adult birds. It is important not to pay too much attention to the colour of fringing when ageing birds but look for evidence of a moult limit in the wings and tail and signs of abrasion.
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