Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Our First Ringing Control in Portugal

Ringing activities during November for me have been restricted to a couple of sessions at Titchfield Haven and a bit in the garden. The sessions at the Haven were the latest we have ever done and did not really amount to much despite having all of our nets open. In fact on both dates half of the birds were resident retraps. However we did manage to add a few more chiffs to our annual total and caught more goldcrests in those two sessions than we had all year.

Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

We also caught another new kingfisher which takes our total to the year to four. This bird was an adult, this can be seen by the all black colouration at the base of the lower mandible.

Adult Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

One session was also memorable due to the capture of two green woodpeckers. Both birds were retraps and adults, but one was a male and the other a female.

Male Green Woodpecker Picus viridis

Male birds (above) exhibit a red centre to the black moustache, whereas female birds (below) have no red in the black moustache. 

Female Green Woodpecker

One thing I do like about winter is the fantastic light and lack of heat haze, on a still clear day this lends itself to taking crisp photos with lots of contrast.

The River Meon at Titchfield Haven from our ringing area

The downside of ringing in the winter, is that on clear nights you can start your session with a heavy frost. This is not ideal when trying to open furled nets as it quickly saps any heat from your hands and makes your nets stand out until the sun melts the frost.

Frost on Phragmities Reed Head

Within the last couple of weeks we have also had a few recoveries back from BTO HQ, a summary is provided below. It is sometimes quite frustrating how long some of these take to come back, this is very evident with the blackcap T619991. This bird was controlled in Portugal in February 2010, but we have only just received the information. In these days of instant news and computerised data it is a shame it takes so long. On a very positive note though this is the first bird that was ringed at the Haven to be controlled in Portugal, so a great recovery for us.

Other interesting foreign controls were two French ringed sedge warblers. One bird was ringed as a juvenile in France in 2011 and retrapped at the Haven this autumn two years and a day since its original capture. The second bird was first ringed as an adult in France last August and and retrapped at the Haven this August. Both were presumably British birds migrating south when they were trapped in France, which is why they have been retrapped at the Haven. A reed warbler ringed on the Isle of Wight was retrapped at the Haven, having travelled north by 17km in five days. It is possible that weather conditions were preventing this bird from migrating south and therefore it was coasting waiting for suitable conditions.

Species Ring No. Capture Type Age Date Details
T619991 N 3 27/09/2009 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire
C 06/02/2010 Fontes, Faro, Portugal (132 days, 1623km  SSW)
Y759573 N 3J 22/07/2013 Bessacarr, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire
C 3F 07/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (47 days, 297km, S)
Reed Warbler
Y718412 N 3 17/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire
C 3 05/09/2013 Litlington, East Sussex (19 days, 99km, E)
C 3 12/09/2013 Litlington, East Sussex (26 days, 99km, E)
Y813442 N 3 01/09/2013 Great Meadow Pond, Windsor, Windsor and Maidenhead
C 3 24/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (23 days, 80km, SW)
D562011 N 3 29/08/2013 Haseley Manor, Arreton, Isle of Wight
C 3 03/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (5 days, 17km, N)
Y544426 N 3 01/09/2013 Thatcham Marsh, Thatcham, West Berkshire
C 08/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (7 days, 65km, S)
Y813442 N 3 01/09/2013 Great Meadow Pond, Windsor, Windsor and Maidenhead
C 21/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (20 days, 80km, SW)
Sedge Warbler
Y719541 N 3 07/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire
C 3 20/09/2013 Nanjizal, Land's End, Cornwall (13 days, 327km, WSW)
6693908 N 3 19/08/2011  Marais de Cap, Montmartin-en-Graignes, Manche, France
C 4 20/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (732 days, 173km, N)
6706223 N 4 24/08/2012 Urdains, Bayonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France
C 4 02/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (343 days, 819km, N)
D218893 N 3 26/07/2013 Kirkton of Logie Buchan, Aberdeenshire
C 3 10/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (15 days, 728km, S)
D610553 N 3 21/08/2013 Dunkirk, Little Downham, near Ely, Cambridgeshire
C 3 19/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (29 days, 209km, SSW)
D639756 N 3 21/08/2013 Much Marcle, Herefordshire
C 07/09/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (17 days, 159km, SSE)
L931682 N 3J 04/08/2013 Bellflask, West Tanfield, North Yorkshire
C 3 10/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (6 days, 375km, S)
Y661622 N 3J 22/07/2013 Rye Meads, Hertfordshire
C 06/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (15 days, 137km, SW)
C 08/08/2013 Titchfield Haven, Hill Head, Fareham, Hampshire (17 days, 137km, SW)

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Donna Nook Grey Seals - November 2013

This last week I have spent some time visiting friends in Northern England, but as is typical in my life, no trip would be complete without a visit to a wildlife site. Donna Nook is a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve which comprises a complex of dunes, slacks and inter-tidal areas. The whole area is used by grey and common seals to haul out, but the site is most notably know for its colony of breeding grey seals. During November and December the seals come ashore to give birth and mate, before returning to the sea. I had been to Donna Nook before but was left without any images after my portable hard-drive failed, this time I was prepared.

The grey seal Halichoerus grypus is a large seal mammal that weighs between 105 to 310 kilogrammes. They are found throughout the year in British waters and could potentially turn up at any coastal site, but most likely along the northern Atlantic coast. The colouration of their fur varies from reddish brown to dark greyish black, but newborn pups have a yellowish-white pelage for the first two to four weeks of their life.

Grey Seal Pup - Donna Nook

Grey Seal Pup - Donna Nook

Grey seal mothers are extremely protective of their young and will remain in close attendance for the first couple of weeks. However after a couple of weeks the mother returns to the sea and leaves the pup to fend for itself. The pup will remain on shore for three to four weeks whilst its juvenile pelt moults out.

New born Grey Seal pup

This new born pup was only around one hour old

When a few days old, grey seal pups look extremely cute, but just after birth they can be covered in blood, and discarded placenta is lying everwhere...not the best thing if you are the slightest bit squeamish!

Mother with New Born Twins - the smaller pup in the foreground had been
born within the hour.

Mother and Calf Grey Seal

Females are extremely attentive of their young and will groom and scratch them, for some this appears quite irritating as the try to move away, whereas others snuggle up and enjoy the close attention.

Pregnant Grey Seal ready to give birth

Female grey seals come ashore only one or two days before giving birth, and become increasingly more restless just prior to birth. Whilst male grey seals take the opportunity to relax and soak up the sun. Grey seals are polygynous and males will compete actively with each other for the chance to mate with several females.

Male Srey Seal

Males are much larger and bulkier than females and exhibit a distinctive long, convex muzzle that gives a 'Roman Nose' impression.

Female Grey Seal having a good scratch

Females are smaller and slimmer (when not pregnant) but still exhibit the same distinctive head and nose shape, this can be seen above. 

Female Grey Seal relaxing

Giving birth and raising their young is a stressful thing for female grey seals, and when not suckling they take the time to catch up on some well earned rest, but always with a watchful eye on their young.

Young Pup Suckling its Mother

As the pups get older and their parents return to the sea, they moult into their adult type pelage. The colouration is still white but patches of dark grey form around the head and over the body.

Juvenile Grey Seal without its new born pelage

Juvenile Grey Seal without its new born pelage

For anyone wishing to see grey seals up close Donna Nook is an excellent location. Access to the seals is limited by the presence of a wooden fence which enables visitors to get within a metre without disturbing them, and allows for excellent photo opportunities. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Another American Wader In Hampshire!

Whilst many hardcore British twitchers were heading north to Pembrokeshire in search of the probable Western Orphean Warbler, I headed west along the south coast of Hampshire to Lepe Country Park in search of yet another American Wader. This bird, a lesser yellowlegs, had been found on a brackish pool last Sunday, 10th November, but Friday 15th was the first chance I had to go.

I arrived at the site around 09:30 and headed off towards the scrape located to the east of the car park. I had been confused by the directions, since despite having lived in Hampshire all my life, I hadn't know of this scrapes existence, or if I had I'd forgotten about it, which is a distinct possibility. I was part way to the scrape when I met a couple of birders that I knew, they were off to look at another patch of water to the west of the car park and know as 'Dark Water' since the bird was not on the scrape.

I tagged along, since I figured three pairs of eyes searching would be better than one. Apparently the Dark Water river and marsh drains Beaulieu Heath, and reaches the sea via a tunnel and sluice gate. The river is flanked on either side by a large expanse of reed bed and wetland habitat, a large body of water and other scattered pools. Viewing is difficult as there are loads of areas where birds can loiter out of sight, but there are three main areas to try. The first is from the road, where birds are distant but identifiable, from the west from a footpath which crosses an adjacent field, and from the east, from a boardwalk that passes through a small area of woodland.

We started from the road and recorded common redshanks, black-tailed godwit, common snipe, wigeon, common teal, lapwings, black-headed and Mediterranean gulls...but no lesser legs! After a good hour and half of scanning from the road and the footpath to the west, I decided to head back east to check out the other pool. The tide was high and as I wandered back a noticed a small, mixed flock of waders on the beach. They were trying to roost right in front of the car park, but were being continually disturbed by dog walkers.

Roosting Dunlin Calidris alpina and lone Turnstone Arenaria interpres

There were about 100 birds in the flock, pretty much equally split between dunlin, turnstone and ringed plover. While the others headed back to the eastern scrape I spent a few minutes scanning through the flock.

Roosting Turnstone and lone Dunlin
Despite my best efforts there was nothing unusual in the flock, but it was nice to see a few juvenile birds in the flock. When I eventually got to the scrape there was still no sign of the lesser legs, but six Med gulls, a grey plover, a couple each of black-tailed godwit and redshank kept me entertained for a while. After about another half an hour I decided to wander again. There is a small patch of woodland that runs along the western bank of Dark Water. It consists of mainly broad-leaved species including oak, a small area of beech,  willow, yew and holm oak. The wood was fairly quiet, with a few goldcrests, coal tit, treecreeper and blue and great tit, but just as I was coming to the end of the trail, a couple of firecrests jumped out.

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavips

Just as I got to the end of the woodland trail, new broke that the lesser legs had just flown back onto the scrape. I quickly headed back over and there it was, the closest bird to the shore. It was feeding along the south-western edge of the scrape, and with the sun behind me the bright yellow legs really stood out. 

Lesser Yellowlegs

In comparison with the nearby common redshank, the yellow legs had greyer upperparts, a shorter and finer bill, which was mainly dark, but slightly paler at the base. The bird also gave the impression of being daintier, more elongated and elegant than the redshanks.

Lesser Yellowlegs

The upperparts seem fairly plain, with faint spotting along the feather edges and therefore this bird looks like an adult to me, as juveniles are usually more distinctly marked. There have been several previous records of lesser yellowlegs in Hampshire, but the last one I saw was at Farlington Marshes in 1986. I have of course seen the species regularly on my many visits to America and Canada, but it's always nice to catch up with one on home turf.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Easy Pickings for Long-eared Bats...

This week I had the opportunity to look for bats at the usual roost site, and seeing as it gets dark by about 5pm these days, there was no choice but to go in the dark. November is usually a time of reduced activity for bats, and so there was a good chance that some would still be in the roost despite it being dark out side. The roost was the old barn that I have been monitoring for many years, as there are usually two or three species present. The bats use the barn differently throughout the the year, during the summer they are mainly in the roof, but during the spring, autumn and winter they roost at mid or ground level, where the temperature is more stable.

Their roosting habits have been perfectly illustrated in a study that a friend Izabel Phillips did exploring the effects of temperature and humidity on bat activity. Izabel monitored how common pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus and brown long-eared bats Plecotus auritus used the barn over the course of a year. She recorded numbers of bats, their respective roosting locations and the temperature and humidity within the barn. This is summarised in an extract from her study, below.

In this image the dark spots represent the brown long-eareds and the pale spots common pipistrelles. It can be seen how bats move to the lower levels of the barn outside of the maternity period, but utilise the roof area in the summer. The pips don't breed in the barn and are absent from May through to August, whereas the long-eareds remain in the barn all year. 

On entering the barn a brown long-eared was picked up on the bat detector immediately. It was flying around in the more open (eastern) part of the barn, and soon settled on the brickwork at the apex of the eastern wall. A second brown long-eared was recorded in the apex of the roof at the western end, this bat was awake but still looked quite sleepy. It was settled next to a daddy long-legs spider Pholcus phalangioides and a herald moth Scoliopteryx libatrix, so there were some easy pickings for when it woke up!

Brown long-eared Bat with Daddy long-legs spider and Herald Moth

There were of course other easy picking throughout the barn, as well as the herald moth, small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies were present. Judging by the number of butterfly wings lying around, it appears that the bats have been taking advantage of this 'in house' food source. It is interesting how they would find these moths and butterflies as long-eared bats usually feed by gleaning their prey at close quarters within dense foliage. Their prey would normally be moving but these moths and butterflies are clearly hibernating.

Brown long-eared Bats - Hook Barn

Brown long-eared bats are one of my favourite bat species, they are not rare, but because of their quiet echolocation they can be very easily overlooked. In the UK there are two long-eared bat species, brown, which is common and widespread and grey P. austriacus, which is extremely rare and restricted to the extreme south/south-west of the UK and the Isle of Wight. Both species have large ears which they use to listen for their prey. They tend to feed on moths, such as large yellow underwings, and there have been some interesting evolutionary battles going on between this moth species and the and the long-eareds.

A torpid brown long-eared Bat

When torpid long-eared bats can lose body temperature through their large ears, but to combat this they tuck their ears behind their wings. The image above shows a torpid bat and the those long ears clearly tucked behind the wing membrane. The mild weather conditions have probably prevented these two bats from entering hibination yet. Whilst in the barn we also recorded single serotine and common pipistrelle, these two bats were still asleep and appeared torpid. I suspect the cold overnight temperatures may have triggered these bats to enter torpor, but the long-eareds are perhaps more tolerant of colder temperatures.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ring-billed and other Gulls at Walpole Park, Gosport

With strong south-westerly winds across the south of England this week there has been no opportunity for bird ringing. Instead I decided to spend a few hours working my way along the coast looking for gulls and other storm blown species. Back in January I wrote about an adult ring-billed gull that had been frequenting a park in Gosport every winter for the last 10 years, well this last weekend it had returned, so my first stop was to go and look for it.

Adult Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis - Returning for its 11th Winter

Being over 10 years old now, this bird is a full adult, and therefore is probably in the easiest plumage for identification of the species. In winter plumage an adult ring-billed essentially looks like many other gull species, pure white head, breast, belly and under-tail coverts and black tips to the primaries.

Flight View of Adult Ring-billed Showing obvious Small White Window in Primary Tips

There are still some obvious and distinctive identification features and these include the large yellow bill with obvious black band near the tip, the yellow legs, the pale yellow iris and when in flight the small white window in the otherwise black wing tips. The bird showed very well for the whole time I was there, so if anyone is interested in getting some experience with this species, Walpole Park may be worth a visit.

Adult Winter Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus - The deep red legs and bill suggest this
bird is several years old

There are often many other species of gull at the site, the most common being black-headed gull. Black-headed gulls reach full adult plumage in their second winter and therefore there are only two plumage's to consider. Adult birds show some vertical head streaking, light grey back and mantle and pure white nape and underparts (see above). First winter birds lack the bright red bill and legs, have brown primaries and brown feathers in the tertials and lesser coverts (see below).

First Winter Black-headed Gull - Note the brown primary tips, tertials and
some lesser coverts. The leg colour is also duller and more orange than that
of the adult bird (above)

Another species that is a regular along the south coast is Mediterranean gull, although the numbers in winter are much lower than during the summer months. There was only one bird at Walpole Park and that was an adult winter bird. Mediterranean Gulls in adult plumage have pure white wings, including the primaries. They have a deep, blood red bill with a black band and dark red legs, white eye crescents and a dark mask. Overall this species is larger and stockier than black-headed gull, with a squarer shaped head and subsequently stands out from the black-heads.

Adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus - the light grey upper parts

Herring Gulls are another common species, often with a variety of ages present. On this visit there was just one first winter bird. This bird had a fairly short dark bill, which was slightly paler at the base. A paler head, breast and underparts and brown markings on the under parts. The tertials exhibit broad dark centres and a dark subterminal band is present on the back and mantle.

First Winter Herring Gull Larus argentatus - Walpole Park

Walpole Park has a bit of a history with American Gulls as in November 2005 a first winter laughing gull joined the ring-billed and was present at the site from 5th November through until the 13th. It did go missing at times but for the patient it provided some great views. 

First Winter Laughing Gull Larus atricilla Walpole Park November 2005

Unfortunately I was limited by time every time I visited but I did still manage to get some acceptable record shots.

First Winter Laughing Gull Walpole Park November 2005

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Bearded Parrotbill...Reedling or Tit.....Ringing at Farlington Marshes - November 2013

Despite the success of last weeks ringing session at the Haven, and our first Radde's warbler (sorry to mention it again!), today we decided to go to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust's Farlington Marshes reserve to try and ring bearded parrotbills. We had been aiming to try several weeks ago, but the weather conditions have been against us. This morning it was forecast to be flat calm for the first few hours, then strong winds and squally showers moving in by lunchtime, so we decided to give it a go.

As you may have gathered from the title to this post, the bearded parrotbill is a species that has puzzled ornithologists for over two centuries. It is considered to be a member of the Paradoxornithidae family, but is thought to be an outlier in that family. It is the only parrotbill species to exhibit sexual dimorphism and a bill that bears no resemblance to other parrotbills. Subsequently the English name has changed from bearded tit to bearded reedling, and now to bearded parrotbill. There is no guarantee that this latest name will last long though, as according to molecular evidence the link with parrotbills may be a remote one.

We erected four nets at dawn and could hear bearded parrotbills calling their distinctive 'pinging' call almost immediately, but our first net round produced only three wrens. There have been at least 35 birds in the reedbed at Farlington and so we were hopeful of catching some birds, and and we didn't have to wait long.

Male Bearded Parrotbill

Male birds are striking and probably the most stunning breeding species in the British Isles. They are easily identified by the chestnut and white upperparts, grey head and throat and distinctive black moustache. The bright yellow bill and iris put the finishing touches to this beautiful species.

Male Bearded Parrotbill - Note the characteristic black moustache that
give the bird its name, grey head and rich chestnut and white upperparts.

Female birds are by contrast much duller and lack the distinctive moustache and the head is a buffish-brown colour. The wings are chestnut and white, as with the male birds, but not as bright.

Female - Bearded Parrotbill - The female is much duller than the male and
lacks the moustache and grey head.

Another striking feature of male birds are the black undertail coverts, which add to the overall stunning look of the species. Female birds lack the black and instead theirs are buff.

Male and Female Bearded Parrotbills - Note the striking black undertail
coverts of the male bird.

Ageing bearded parrotbills at this time of year can be tricky as both adult and juvenile birds undergo a summer complete moult and are therefore inseparable. Birds moult from mid-July through to late October and prior to that the 1st primary of a juvenile bird is longer than the longest primary covert, and its tip is rounded. In adult birds the 1st primary equals the length of the primary coverts  and its tip is pointed. A feature which is used by some ringers is the colour of the iris, which is paler in juvenile birds and richer in adult birds. Of course this feature is only any good if you have experience with the species, or have several birds for comparison. Fortunately we caught 17 birds, 16 were new and one was a retrap and so we had plenty of birds to compare. 

Comparison in eye colour of full grown birds - the bird on the right is undoubtedly
a bird of this year (age code 3), the bird on the left could be adult, or maybe a juvenile
from a first brood

The image above illustrates the difference in eye colour in two male birds. The right hand bird has a very pale, yellowish iris which would suggest a juvenile bird. In contrast the bird on the left, has an iris which is more orange in colour. This bird could be an adult, but the iris was still yellowish towards the outer edge which may indicate a juvenile bird but from a first brood. The image below illustrates two females, the bird on the right was an adult that was ringed at least two years before. Looking at the bird on the left, it again has a very pale iris indicating a juvenile bird. Another interesting feature is the colour of the bill, the adult birds bill is brighter, whereas the presumed juveniles bill is darker, this is not evident in the male birds.

Comparison of eye colour in female birds. The right hand bird was a retrap
that was at least two years old.

The session was not only memorable for the beardies but also for another species that I have not handled this year...a common stonechat. We had seen three birds feeding on the edge of the reedbed and suspected that there might be a chance of catching one or two. This bird was a juvenile (age code 3) male. 

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata

Adult stonechats undergo a complete moult after breeding, whereas juvenile birds undergo a partial moult. Therefore birds can be aged by the presence of retained juvenile feathers, evidence of wear and fringing. This bird exhibited a moult limit in the greater coverts and also a fair amount of wear and fringing in the wing and tail feathers, as seen below.

Common Stonechat

The surprise bird of the day was a sedge warbler, a species that should by now be well on the way to Africa. We have caught a few late birds during October at Titchfield Haven, but to catch this species in early November is exceptional. I looked back at the previous latest date for the species in Hampshire, and other than a previous bird that was recorded wintering on one occasion, the latest date is 9th November and that was in 1963. The latest bird in Hampshire in 2011 (2012 data not yet available) was 16th October.

Sedge warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

By the end of the session we had caught 24 birds, 17 beardies, three wrens, and one each of robin, stonechat, Cetti's and sedge warbler. Looking at the forecast for the rest of the weekend it is doubtful that there will be anymore ringing.
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