Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The First Common Nightingale of the Year - April 2014

I had a spare couple of hours last night (28th April) and so headed down to Botley Wood with Mark Cutts in the hope of catching my first common nightingale of the year. We headed to an area where I had seen an un-ringed male bird that appeared to be already paired, back on the 24th April. A bird was singing as we arrived, but much further back in the vegetation than I had seen it, but given my experiences last year, I presumed it was the same bird. Last year I had ringed a new male at this location and had colour-ringed it, so it was slightly disappointing that it had not returned. We put up a couple of nets, and almost on command the male bird flew back to the main track, where one of our nets was, and began to sing. The bird was very excited and singing in full view before heading down the hedge and straight into our other net.

First year male Common Nightingale - Botley Wood

The bird was un-ringed and therefore was presumably the bird I had seen a few days before. It was first year bird (hatched last year) which was immediately evident due to the pale tips to five old greater coverts, the primary coverts (see below) and the tertials.

Pale tips visible on outer five greater coverts and tips of primary coverts

The BTO have recently changed the ring sizes for some species. Previously adult birds were ringed with an A size and pullus with a B size, now A and B can be used for adult birds. I have often felt that an A ring was a little too small, and this was the case for this bird too so I opted for a B. The only annoying thing was that in my haste to get out I forgot to pack my colour rings, that will have to wait until next time.

This year looks like it might be quite a good one, since I personally have recorded five singing males so far and have heard of two others, so hopefully some got re-traps among them.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Colour-ringed Godwits at Manor Farm (Part 2) - April 2014

Following on from my last post about the three black-tailed godwits I saw at Manor Farm Country Park, this week I received the information on each bird. Thanks to Pete Potts and Bodvar for sending the information through so quickly. Two of the three birds were ringed on the south coast of England, one on Thorney Island, West Sussex and the other at The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Farlington Marshes reserve in Hampshire; the third was ringed in Iceland as a chick. In order to differentiate the birds I thought it best to re-publish the same photos, with a summary of their respective life histories below.


G//L+R was first ringed as a nestling, one of a brood of two, in north west Iceland in June 2003. Since then it has been re-sighted on 55 occasions in both Iceland and the UK. A summary of the sightings is provided below;

2003 - After ringing it was re-sighted seven times in north west Iceland.

2004 - There were only three sighting in 2004, all from Southampton Water, Hampshire, UK with one in February, March and April.

2005 - There were two sightings from north west Iceland, one in July and one in August.

2006 - There were 14 sightings in this year from both England and Iceland. In February there were two sightings from Titchfield Haven, Hampshire, UK but between May and August there were nine sightings in north west Iceland. Three further sightings, one in September and two in October, were made from Warsash, Hampshire UK.

2007 - There were five sightings this year, three in March from Titchfield Haven and the River Hamble in Hampshire, UK one from north west Iceland in May and a further sighting from the River Hamble, Hampshire in September.

2008 - This year was another good year with 11 sightings made, all from the UK. The majority of the sightings were from the River Hamble and Warsash, with three in the early part of the year, January, March and April and seven in September and October. There was one sighting from Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, UK in November.

2009 - There were only three sightings in this year, one in January on the River Hamble, Hampshire UK, one from north west Iceland in April and one Warsash in the latter part of the year (November).

2010 - There were only three sightings this year, all from Warsash on the River Hamble, one in April and two in September.

2011 - There were three sightings, all in April and from Iceland. One from west Iceland and two from north west Iceland.

2012 - In early April this bird was seen at Warsash, Hampshire, in May it was back in north west Iceland and in December it was again seen at Warsash on the River Hamble.

2013 - There were no sightings in 2013.

2014 - My sighting on the River Hamble last week has been the only one so far this year.


This bird was originally ringed in June 2005 on Thorney Island, West Sussex and has been re-sighted 65 times since ringing. All of the sightings have come from the south coast of England. A summary of sightings is provided below;

2005 - After ringing this bird was re-sighted seven times; the first four sighting were near the ringing site in Emsworth Harbour and on Thorney Island in July and August. In October this bird had moved to the River Hamble, and in December it was recorded at Titchfield Haven.

2006 - It remained at Titchfield Haven where it was again sighted twice in February. There were two further sightings, one in August on the River Hamble and one at Fareham Creek, Portsmouth Harbour in September.

2007 - There were 10 sightings this year, three in January, four in March and one in April all from the River Hamble and Titchfield Haven. In November and December the bird was seen once in each month on the River Hamble.

2008 - The was one sighting in February from the River Hamble. In November and December the bird moved to Portsmouth Harbour, where it was reported four times.

2009 - In April the bird was reported three times from the capture site on Thorney Island, West Sussex. In November it was again reported in Portsmouth Harbour.

2010 - In April 2010 the bird moved to Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth where I was sighted three times. In August it was back on the River Hamble.

2011 - There were nine sightings this year, five between January and April and four between October and December. In the early part of the year the favoured sites were the River Hamble and Southampton Water. In the latter part of the year the bird frequented the River Hamble before moving to Portsmouth Harbour.

2012 - There were only four records this year, all from Portsmouth Harbour, one in January, one in March and two in December.

2013 - There were 14 sighting during March and early April all from Southampton Water.

2014 - There have only been two sightings, including mine, this year, both from the River Hamble.


This is the oldest of the three birds having originally been ringed at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Farlington Marshes reserve in October 2002. Since then it has been re-sighted 59 times from three countries, the UK, France and Iceland. A summary of sightings in provided below;

2002 - After ringing it was re-sighted at Farlington Marshes 10 days later.

2003 - There were four sightings this year, one from the Avon Valley, Hampshire UK in January, two from the Loire Valley, France in August and then back in the UK at Lymington in the north west Solent in December.

2004 - The were two sightings in the north west Solent in April, and one back at Farlington Marshes in September.

2005 - There were only three sightings this year, all from March. Two were on Thorney Island and one from the north west Solent.

2006 - There were seven sightings this year, one from France in February, one from south west Iceland in July and five from the River Hamble, Hampshire, UK during September and October.  

2007 - In January the bird was reported twice on the Brittany Coast in France, in April it was back on the River Hamble, but in September it was recorded in Kent, UK.

2008 - This year it was recorded initially in April on the River Hamble, then in July it was recorded in Kent, UK, before returning to the River Hamble in September where it was recorded twice in September and once in October.

2009 - There were two sightings in January, both from Western France, there were no further sightings this year.

2010 - There were nine sightings this year, the first was in France in February. There were then five sightings in April on the River Hamble, UK and two and one in August and September, respectively from Kent, UK.

2011 - There were seven sightings this year, two in March and one in April on Southampton Water, then two further sightings in April on the River Hamble. In August this bird was reported in Essex, UK before moving to France where it was reported in October.

2012 - There was only one sighting this year and that was from the Wash in Lincolnshire, UK.

2013 - This bird spent the early part of this year in Hampshire where it was reported on the River Itchen, Southampton and on the River Hamble 11 time between late March and early May.

2014 - The only record this year is mine from the River Hamble in April.

The sightings for these three birds highlight the importance of a providing network of feeding sites throughout their wintering range. According to the BTO website the maximum recorded age for black-tailed godwit is 23 years, 3 months and 21 days, set in 2001. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Colour-ringed Godwits at Manor Farm Country Park - April 2014

This morning I nipped down to Manor Farm Country Park to check out the route in preparation for my dawn chorus walk there next Sunday, 27th April. It was a fine day and the park was busy, with out of control dogs everywhere. Fortunately my walk starts at 5am so there shouldn't be too many people around then. After sussing the route I headed down to the River Hamble to check out the intertidal on the rising tide, there had been a recent report of an Iceland gull further up river so I was also hoping for that. A couple of whimbrel were the first I had seen on the patch this year, as were a small flock of black-tailed godwits. Initially there were five birds, with one colour-ringed individual; I didn't have my scope and unfortunately couldn't work out the combinations so I quickly headed back to the car. When I returned there were seven birds, three of which were colour-ringed.

A good mate of mine, Pete Potts has been studying godwits for many years, and birds are colour-ringed in Iceland, the UK and I believe Portugal. These birds seemed to have different types of colour combinations which could suggest that they have been ringed in different locations, or are part of different schemes. In addition I could not see a metal ring on any of the birds, which could also suggest that they have not been ringed in the UK.

This bird had four colour rings - orange over black or right tibia, orange on
left tibia and red on left tarsus

This bird had white over white, with the letters A9 on the right tibia, orange
over white on the white tibia and red on the left tarsus

This bird had red on the right tibia, green on the left tibia and another
ring on the left tibia. It was difficult to decipher this ring but I think it is a
discoloured white ring but it may be yellow

I tried to contact Pete but he was away for the weekend. Hopefully he will be able to give me their history, but I will submit the details to the BTO too, and let you know once I have found out.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Five go birding in Dorset - April 2014

It was a step back in time to the 1980's yesterday (18th April) when I got together with four mates for a trip to Portland for some birding. It had been a long time since I had been birding with them all at the same time, and probably even longer since we had squeezed five birders into the car. Given that it was a long weekend there had been much discussion about which day to go, but the predicted overnight cloud and light north-easterly wind made us go for Friday. Unfortunately the slight low came through early and so there was no overnight cloud, but there was still a brisk north-easterly wind.

Top Fields
We arrived early and started in the top fields. The initial lack of migrants in the first field changed in the second as a mixed flock of northern wheatears, whinchats and common redstarts fed frantically. The wheatears were spread out over the field and moving between the surrounding hedgerows. Their constant flicking between the two made them difficult to count but we estimated around 25.

Male Northern Wheatear

The whinchats and redstarts in contrast were easier to count since there were far fewer present with three and two, respectively. Birds in the bushes were generally proving more tricky to see, except that is willow warblers that were present in good numbers around the field margins. With patience we eventually managed to tease out a few blackcaps and a lesser whitethroat.

Male Northern Wheatear

From the top fields we next headed to the west cliffs. We had picked up a summer plumaged golden plover flying over earlier, this had now settled in a field, but was looking a little nervous due to a couple of inquisitive horses. A couple of common whitethroats were added to the list of migrants and a male peregrine flew over low.

West Cliffs
A steady stream of hirundines were flying along the West Cliffs. Predominantly these were made up of Barn Swallows but a handful of houses martins were also passing through. Guillemots and shags were starting to take up residence on the cliff ledges, with larger numbers sat on the water along with a handful of razorbills. Sea passage was slow; a few gannets and fulmars were lingering off shore and a sandwich tern passed by but that was about all of note.

Hut Fields and Observatory Garden
There was a report of a singing grasshopper warbler around the obs garden so we headed there next. Willow warblers were the most numerous species with the supporting cast being blackcaps and a couple of whitethroats. The grasshopper warbler was skulking in a patch of bramble to the east of the obs. It was occasionally reeling, which I found extremely difficult to hear, thereby highlighting the fact that my hearing has not yet fully recovered.

We next headed over to Culverwell and back up to the Top Fields. We saw a few more blackcaps and willow warblers on the way, and another reeling gropper but that was about all.

Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane and Avalanche Road Hump
After a visit to the local pie shop for lunch we headed to the Reap Lane - Barleycrates Lane area. There had been a ring ouzel present in the morning, we did not catch up with that but we did add a few more common redstarts, whinchats and a further 24 wheatears to the daily totals.

A poor record shot of a Common Redstart

And another, this one is slightly harder to spot

A male pied flycatcher had been reported at Suckthumb Quarry, so this was our next stop. Willow warblers were again commonplace but initially there was no sign of the pied fly. We worked our way around the edge of the quarry and then into the back end of the small copse at the Avalanche Road hump. As we entered the copse we picked up the pied fly immediately, and what a cracking bird it was. Spring pied flys are not a common sight for any of us and this bird showed well for a few minutes before heading to the tops of the trees and out of sight; unfortunately we didn't find it again.

Male Pied Flycatcher

Throughout the day we recorded 10 species of butterfly, which included the typical early species brimstone, peacock, comma, small white, orange tip, speckled wood and small tortoiseshell. Species that were new for the year for us all were holly blue, wall brown and amazingly a very fresh clouded yellow.

Wall Brown Butterfly

By the end of the day we were content with what we had seen and probably slightly surprised, given the fine weather we had had throughout the day. We left Portland and after a brief stop at Lodmoor RSPB reserve headed home.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Botley Wood Bird Ringing - April 2014

It was a dawn start this morning with the first proper ringing session of the year at Botley Wood. I say first proper session because we have done some ringing but that only involved a couple nets, that we put up whilst cutting in net rides. Over the last few days there has been a mass arrival of migrants nationally, but this has not been reflected during my visits to Botley Wood, where only a few blackcaps and chiffchaffs have been evident.

We put five nets up in total all along the main access road. This area used to be the best place to catch common nightingales, but as a result of extreme habitat management when the overhead cables were replaced, the last two years have seen none there. There have already been a couple of nightingales reported in the country so I was hopefully optimistic that one would have arrived but not expecting it.

Male Blackcap - One of 12 new birds ringed at Botley Wood

As it turned out my optimism wasn't rewarded and we didn't catch any nightingales, but we did catch good numbers of blackcaps. There were a few blackcaps singing when we arrived so we expected to catch a few, but 12 birds surpassed that expectation by a long way. The twelve birds were made up of seven males and five females, and a mix of adult and first year birds. The first year birds were aged by the presence of retained juvenile greater coverts. Brown in the crown of males, pointed tail feathers and extent of abrasion on wing and tails feathers are also ageing criteria, but I would not use these features in isolation.

The only other migrant species trapped were two chiffchaffs, one male, which was sexed by virtue of a long maximum wing chord (64mm) and the fact that it sang as soon as it was released. The other was probably a female since its maximum wing chord was 55mm.

We also trapped plenty of resident species including wren (2), great tit (3), blue tit (14), a dunnock, coal tit (4), long-tailed tit (2) and a robin. The final total was 41 birds of nine species, which is the best session total we have had at Botley Wood for a few years.

Four new Coal Tits were ringed, two pairs. All of the Coal Tits were age
code five, so hatched last year.

Each Coal Tit was aged by the presence of retained juvenile greater coverts.
These were identified due to a contrast in the colouration of the leading edge of
 the greater coverts. In retained juvenile feathers the leading edge is dull
brown in colour but grey on the adult feathers, as above.

Other species recorded during the ringing session included two ravens, goldcrest, bullfinch, blackbird, goldfinch and a siskin. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Value of Colour Ringing Mediterranean Gulls - April 2014

Back in the summer of 2001, the 26th June to be exact, I was part of a team of ringers who visited the RSPB islands in Langstone Harbour with the specific aim of ringing Mediterranean Gull chicks. I remember it well as it was the first time that pullus, or nestling Med Gulls had been ringed in the County. The Mediterranean Gull was a recent colonist to the Hampshires breeding avifauna in those days and the aim of the project was to colour ring a sample of nestling birds in the hope of understanding their dispersal and survival rates. All of the captured birds were ringed with a standard BTO metal ring and a Darvic ring that included a combination of letters and numbers.

I was not the lead ringer and therefore I had not heard of any recoveries of the birds that we had ringed on that memorable day, until this week when I received an email from Pete Potts, the project co-ordinator. It would appear from Pete's email that there have been several sightings of one particular individual, since it was ringed. Below is a summary of its sightings.

2001 - Darvic ring number 2C31 was ringed on the RSPB islands in Langstone Harbour. After fledging it was first seen at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight before moving to Devon and then onto Sandy Cove in County Dublin where it was last seen on 8th November.

2002 - There were no sightings until 16th July when it was again reported at Sandy Cove. With the exception of occasional visits to other sites in Ireland it remained in this area until 12th September.

2003 - In March 2003 2C31 was reported Asturias Province, Spain before moving to Marias D'Olonne in France in April. There were no further sightings until it returned to Sandy Cove, County Dublin in July. It remained until there until September 2003.

2004 - There were only two sightings in 2004, both from Sandy Cove, County Dublin in July.

2005 - In March 2005 2C31 was seen three times at Marias D'Olonne, France before being reported in Berkshire, England in early April.

2006 - No Sightings

2007 - No sightings

2008 - In early May 2C31 was reported at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire, England.

2009 - There were two January sightings of 2C31 in Spain before turning up in Worcestershire in July. It was back in Spain in November where there were two sightings in Asturias Province.

2010 - There were three sightings in Ireland in 2010, one in August, one it September and one in October.

2011 - Three further sightings were recorded in Ireland in 2011, one in July and two in August.

2012 - This was the best year for sightings to date with 11 reported. Three were from France in March and April with the remaining sightings reported from Ireland between 16th July and 24th October.

2013 - In March 2013 2C31 was sighted near Madrid in Spain. There were no further sightings until July when it was again reported in Ireland, where it remained until 20th October. 

2014 - The latest sighting was from the 9th April where it was reported for the first time in Zeeland in the Netherlands.

Mediterranean Gull 2C31 is now the oldest recorded Med Gull to frequent Ireland where its preferred wintering site seems to be Sandy Cove, County Dublin. Since being ringed it has been recorded 62 times from four countries. On one occasion in 2003 it was recorded paired with an unringed male in France. It is now approaching 12 years since this bird was ringed and interestingly it appears never to have returned to its natal site. 

The amount of data gathered from this one bird is an excellent example of the value of colour ringing birds. The maximum recorded age of a Med Gull in the UK, according  to data from the BTO website is 15 years, three months and seven days.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

More Mediterranean Gulls on the Patch - April 2014

Mediterranean Gulls are a familiar sight for me these days on the patch. They were once a rare winter visitor in Hampshire, with birders travelling to the same traditional site just to get them on their year list. As time moved on they became more regular and now it is a species that breeds in Hampshire in reasonable numbers. This week there have been good numbers feeding in the horse grazed fields, and with the lighter evenings, I have had time to go and watch them after work.

Med Gulls have a very distinctive mewing call that will often make you aware of their presence, although this time of year the jet black hood and white wings make them stand out from a crowd. This week there has been a flock of about 100 gulls feeding on the local pasture, with a peak of 40 of them being Med Gulls. All of the birds present have been adults, identified by their pure white wing tips with the only black being the leading edge of the outer primary. They were mostly were paired up and were very vocal calling to each other constantly.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls
Two adult Mediterranean Gulls - note the thin black line on the leading
edge of outer primary on the first bird
Three adult Mediterranean Gulls - all birds in full adult summer plumage
Adult Mediterranean Gull (right) with adult Black-headed Gull (left) -
note the white leading edge to the primaries on the Black-head and the dark
underside to the primaries. A stark contrast to the adult Med Gull
Adult Mediterranean Gull, with full black hood, white wings and red legs and bill
Adult Mediterranean Gull (left) and adult Black-headed Gull (Right) - note
the full black hood of the Med Gull but the incomplete brown hood of the Black-
head, that does not extend down the back of the head and the neck.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Birding without all my senses - April 2014

The last couple of weeks has proven to be a somewhat frustrating time which started with a heavy cold and led on to ten days with significant hearing loss. For most of the time I was house bound, but this last weekend I decided that I would venture out for some fresh air. Not wishing to travel far, I decided to start with a spot of patch birding and soon found out just how difficult it was to bird with very limited hearing.

I travelled to Botley Wood and could just about hear a common chiffchaff singing about three metres away, finding it, without any sense of direction proved to be even more difficult. I continued along the main track and was rewarded with very little, other than a wren, song thrush and the resident blue and great tits, but it was tough going. Fortunately, the warm spring sunshine made it ideal conditions for raptors. At least seven common buzzards were enjoying the thermals and sparring with each other.

Common Buzzard

The sparring buzzards took my mind off my deafness and as I tried to get some photos I noticed a common raven in amongst them. There has been a pair loitering in the area in recent weeks; this bird was making it very clear that they were still around, and they didn't like the buzzards being there.

Common Raven with two Common Buzzards

The expansion of the common buzzard in the UK has been one of the avian success stories of recent years. Unfortunately its success has been met with anger from the gamekeeping fraternity and there are increasingly regular reports of persecution. The aerial sparring between the buzzards and raven kept me occupied for a while, but they soon got bored with each others attention and drifted off.

Peacock Butterfly

The warm spring conditions were proving ideal for butterflies too. Brimstones were the most abundant with the bright yellow males patrolling the woodland edge. Peacocks too were fairly abundant, seeking out the blackthorn flowers to feed. I recorded two other species on the day, comma and an unidentified small white, which vanished before I could make out whether it was a green-veined or small white.

Great Crested Newt egg - This species is protected under European law
and therefore it is an offence to disturb them. I hold a Natural England licence
that allows me to survey for the species.

There are a few ponds dotted around the patch, and two of these support breeding great crested newts. Newts begin to return to ponds to breed in early March so I thought I would check out one for evidence. It took about 30 seconds to find my first egg and confirm that they were still breeding. A female great crested newt can lay as many as 250 eggs a season, and will lay around 10 a night as the air and water temperatures increase. This early in the season a female may only lay one or two eggs a night.

Streamer Moth

The warmer day and night-time temperatures has seen an increase in moth activity too. Two nights moth trapping in the garden produced 128 moths of 18 species. The majority of the species were ones that I had already trapped this year; the new species were streamer (above), blossom underwing and early tooth-striped (below).

Early Tooth-striped Moth
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...