Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Latest Update from Titchfield Haven - September 2014

Last weekend, the bird ringing was fairly average with 82 birds ringed on each day. 

Saturday 20th - today was our third and final public ringing event of the year, but unfortunately the visitors were greeted to a foggy and damp morning. The damp conditions meant that dew droplets kept hanging on the nets making them very visible to birds. It was a slow start but eventually we caught 47 Blackcaps, 11 Sedge Warblers, eight Chiffchaffs, seven Reed Warblers, three Robins, two Song Thrush and single Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat. The only notable species was a Magpie, not rare but the first we have ringed  this year.

Wryneck - Hook with Warsash

After ringing news came through of a Wryneck on the beach at Hook with Warsash Nature Reserve. Since that was on the way home, well sort of, I took a slight detour to see it. Initially, it wasn't on view, but after a wait of about 15 minutes it appeared and showed relatively well.

Male Reed Bunting

Sunday 21st - today was a much more promising start, a clear overnight sky and no wind. It was again a slow start but things soon got going, our total included 30 Chiffchaffs, 27 Blackcaps, 11 Sedge Warblers, five Reed Warblers, three Cetti's and single Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Bunting.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Titchfield Haven, Mid-September Update

It is now mid-September and what started as a slow season has turned out to be an excellent autumn. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we try to use standard trapping methods at the Haven, this includes using the same number of nets, ringing on only three mornings a week and the same tape lures. This allows us to directly compare our totals year on year. Of course the birds that we catch will not necessarily be from the breeding population in the UK, but are likely to be birds from other parts of Europe, as was illustrated so dramatically illustrated with the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler a couple of weeks ago.

Looking at the nine key species that we study, it is evident that they have all had good years. The Sedge Warbler total currently stands at 1183, which is already our sixth highest total ever. Reed Warbler's seem to be one of the winners this year, as the total of 642 is already the second highest total ever, and the Willow Warbler total of 267 is the highest ever.

The Grasshopper Warbler total is the fifth highest total ever and Garden Warbler's appear to have had a good year as this total is our second highest ever. It is still early days for Chiffchaff, as this species is a later migrant, but the total to date is the second highest of the last five years. I was only today reading a post on the BTO Bird Ringing Demog Blog about large numbers of Blackcaps being ringed at western and central sites in the UK, and this is definitely the case at the Haven. We have already ringed 537 birds, which is the eighth highest total, but looking at the year to year comparisons, the total this year is already 180 more that at the same point in 2010 when the third highest total ever was recorded. The total for Common Whitethroat is on a par with our highest ever total, which was recorded in 2011 and the Cetti's Warbler is again indicating a strong breeding season.

There were no surprises over the last week, although we did catch our second Sparrowhawk and Green Woodpecker of the year and our first Spotted Flycatcher of the year.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Yellow Wags, Farlington Marshes - September 2014

August and September are the best months for catching Yellow Wagtails in Hampshire. Unfortunately we didn't manage to do any sessions in August, but we have managed two sessions so far in September. At Farlington Marshes the Yellow Wags spend most of the day in the fields with cattle, but at dusk they come into roost in the reed bed. We did our first session last week and another last night, and have amassed a total of 57 new birds so far.

Yellow Wagtail - Farlington Marshes

In theory Yellow Wagtails are pretty straight forward to age; adults undergo a complete post breeding moult and juveniles only a partial post juvenile moult. Adults therefore will have fresh plumage with the medium and greater coverts and tertials tipped a yellowish-green or buffish colour. Juveniles however have slightly worn medium and greater coverts and tertials, with white fringing.

Juvenile Yellow Wagtail - Note the white fringing to the greater coverts and occasional whiter fringed medium covert
Juvenile Yellow Wagtail - All of the greater coverts in this bird are juvenile, the medium coverts are post juvenile
Juvenile Yellow Wagtail - Note the white fringed juvenile medium coverts, which stand out from the buff fringed post juvenile ones. The greater coverts are all post juvenile
Adult Yellow Wagtail - Note the yellowish-green fringed medium and greater coverts and uniform generally warmer plumage
Adult Yellow Wagtail - Note the uniform yellowish-green fringing on all of the wing feathers.

Whilst waiting for the wagtails to come to roost other species of note that we recorded included three Whinchats, one Stonechat, a Green Sandpiper, 50+ Greenshank, Little Egret and at least 100 Black-tailed Godwits.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Red-backed Shrike and Mediterranean Gulls - Sandy Point, Hayling Island - September 2014

Back on the 4th September Andy Johnson found a Red-backed Shrike at Sandy Point on Hayling Island. I had been hoping to get down to see it at some point but had been too busy, today (14th September) it was still around and so after this mornings ringing session at Titchfield Haven I headed down to see it. The bird had been frequenting the south-eastern corner of the reserve, and therefore was best viewed from the beach, so that's where I headed. I arrived around midday and the bird was performing well. Occasionally it would drop out of view in a patch of gorse, but most of the time it was sat proud on top of vegetation. At one point it appeared to try and catch one of two Stonechats, but they managed to avoid it.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike - Sandy Point, Hayling Island

As well as the Red-backed Shrike and the Stonechats, two Northern Wheatears were present and a couple of Dartford Warblers put on a good show.

Dartford Warbler - Sandy Point, Hayling Island

After a while the shrike disappeared, so I began to scan out to sea. In the race just offshore there were a large number of gulls feeding, of which the majority were Mediterranean Gulls. They were fairly close to the shore and so I headed down to the tide line to get a better look.

Adult Black-headed (left), 2nd Winter Mediterranean (middle) and two adult Mediterranean (right) Gulls

There were over 70 Mediterranean Gulls present of different ages, the most numerous being first year birds, a couple of second winters and a good number of adults. Some images of the different ages are below.

First Winter Mediterranean Gull 
Second Winter Mediterranean Gull
Adult Winter Mediterranean Gull

As I sat and watched the Med Gulls several other species dropped in. A juvenile Kittiwake put in a brief appearance, as did a couple of Common Terns followed by a four of five Sandwich Terns, a mixture of moulting adults and juveniles.

Adult Sandwich Tern - Sandy Point, Hayling Island
Juvenile Sandwich Tern - Sandy Point, Hayling Island

Juvenile Sandwich Tern - Sandy Point, Hayling Island

My attention was diverted at one point by two Lancaster Bombers flying east.They were quite far out to sea, but headed in land later for a display in West Sussex, which I was able to watch from a distance.

Lancaster Bombers - Hayling Island

Friday, 12 September 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs, Titchfield Haven - August 2014

News broke yesterday of a Lesser Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven, and as it was still there today I nipped down this evening to go and have a look. The bird had been frequenting the North Scrape and so is best viewed from the Pumfrett Hide but I thought I would check the South Scrape first, just in case it was present. The light was fantastic and in front of the hide a couple of Pied Avocets, several Common Snipes and a Black-tailed Godwit were feeding.

The Avocets were both juveniles, and one of them was wearing some colour rings. I have yet to find out where this bird is from, but suspect it was ringed in the west of the County as Graham Giddens apparently colour rings them. One of the issues with colour rings is the way that they discolour, on the Haven bird the upper ring on the right leg is discoloured, I suspect it is white. The ring below appears to be light green, but appears to have faded and looks to be a similar colour to the discoloured white ring above. Maybe coloured darvic rings, with letters would be a better idea for a species of this size.

Avocet, Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Avocet, Titchfield Haven - August 2014

The snipe were also feeding just in front of the hide, at least six snipe were present with another 20 scattered around the scrape. Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwing were the other wader species present, with ducks, including Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Common Teal also on the scrape. I scanned around the south scrape but could see no sign of the Lesser legs, but then I spotted it feeding in the North Scrape.

Common Snipe - Titchfield Haven, August 2014
Common Snipe - Titchfield Haven, August 2014
Common Snipe - Titchfield Haven, August 2014
I headed round to the Pumfrett Hide to view the scrape and there it was. The Lesser Yellowlegs was towards the back of the scrape, and although giving great scope views in excellent light, it was bit too far away for decent photos. Given that there has been a Lesser Yellowlegs at Keyhaven for the last few days, I suspect this bird has come from there, as that bird has not been seen the last couple of days. It is great to see another bird so soon after the one that wintered last year.

Lesser Yellowlegs - Titchfield Haven - August

So not a bad week for the Haven, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on Saturday, Lesser Yellowlegs yesterday and today, what will tomorrow bring!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Titchfield Haven - Early September 2014 Update

With all the excitement of the weekend and the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler I didn't get around to posting an update of the weekends ringing at the Haven. The weekend was very much one of two halves, Saturday was another busy day with 233 new birds ringed, whilst Sunday was more relaxed with only 137 new birds ringed. There were in fact several highlights besides the obvious one, the first was the capture of three Kingfishers in a day, the first time we have done that. 

Juvenile Common Kingfisher
Sexing juvenile Kingfishers is always an interesting topic of conversation, you have to decide whether the colouration on the back is more green-blue or blue-green and whether the amount of red on the lower mandible covers two-thirds or one-third. Usually this has to be done with just a single bird, so with three there was the ideal chance for comparison.

Three Juvenile Kingfishers

The next highlight was the capture of two Common Redstarts, our first of the year. Barry had decided to put a Redstart tape on in the morning, it had obviously been worthwhile. Both birds were juvenile birds, and both were males, the black throat feathers can be seen coming through the strongly buff fringed feathers on the image below.

Juvenile Male Common Redstart

Of the 233 birds ringed 91 were Blackcaps, our best day of the year for this species, 32 were Common Whitethroat, 30 Sedge Warbler and 20 each of Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Warbler. Willow Warbler numbers remained good with 10 new birds and 10 new Chiffchaffs were also caught. Only four new Garden Warblers were added to our total to date of 64, which has now surpassed last years total of 63. 

I have previously posted on the subject of ageing Common Whitethroats and in particular the colour of the iris which is quite often the first indication of age. The bird below posed an interesting conundrum, as on first impression the eye looked decidedly juvenile. But on closer inspection its was possible to see a retained worn adult secondary feather in the wing. In addition extensive white was present in the outer tail feathers, these features pointing to an adult. 

Adult Common Whitethroat - although the iris is obvious, it is considerably darker than most adults.
Common Whitethroat - Note retained worn adult secondary in the wing
Common Whitethroat tail, note extent of white on outer edge of the outer tail feathers and on the
tips of the fifth and fourth tale feathers

As I have already mentioned, Sunday was a completely different day with only 137 new birds ringed. The most numerous species was again Blackcap, with 68 new birds ringed, Reed Warbler was next with 30 new birds, followed by Sedge Warbler with 26. Only two each of Grasshopper Warbler and Common Whitethroat were ringed, and our third Lesser Whitethroat of the year.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Eastern Surprise - Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Titchfield Haven September 2014

With the current light easterlies and numerous eastern vagrants turning up in the country at present we were hopeful of something. But living on the south coast of Britain and with the Isle of Wight just off shore, one has to remain grounded, and so we were hopeful of a Wryneck or just maybe a Barred Warbler. In our wildest dreams we have never really considered the chance of a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler and so when Barry returned from a net round with a very odd looking Grasshopper Warbler we didn't expect to see what appeared out of the bag.

Our initial impression was of a bird that was much darker than Grasshopper Warbler with yellow underparts and a finely spotted upper breast. The tail feathers were also extremely dark and the undertail coverts were un-streaked and a warm rusty colour. The bill was considerably larger that that of Grasshopper Warbler. Of course the features that give Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler its nickname of PG Tips are the pale tips to the tertials and the tips of the tail feathers. The pale tips to the tail feathers were not immediately obvious as the tail feathers were wet, but the pale fringing on the tertials, which forms a spot on the inner edge were quite blatant. The underside of the tail was very dark, almost black and the pale tips were extremely obvious from the underside. The series of photos below highlight the features of this truly stunning bird.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler showing pale tips to the tertials particularly
on the inner webs, and pale tips to the outer tail feathers - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Note yellow underparts and fine spotting on the
throat- Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler note un-streaked, and rust coloured undertail coverts, dark underside to the tail
feathers with broad pale tips - Titchfield Haven - August 2014

For comparison the next couple of pictures show the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler with a yellow form of common Grasshopper Warbler. The image below doesn't really show the true extent of the difference in bill size, which appeared significant with the two birds together. The pale tips to the tertials, neat fringing and overall dark plumage, especially on the crown are extremely obvious.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (Left) Grasshopper Warbler (Right) - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (Left) Grasshopper Warbler (Right) - Titchfield Haven - August 2014
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (Left) Grasshopper Warbler (Right) - Titchfield Haven - August 2014

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler breeds in Siberia, parts of Central Asia, Mongolia and further east. If accepted this record will be the first of this species in Hampshire, and an extremely rare record on the south coast of Britain for a species which is more typical of Fair Isle or the Shetland Isles.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Farlington Marshes - 5th September 2014

It was a bit of  dreary start to the day this morning but I had the day booked off and so headed down to Farlington Marshes for a spot of birding. There have been occasional reports of Curlew Sandpipers on the marsh and yesterday an Osprey was seen, so I was quietly optimistic. I arrived just as the tide was falling and headed straight to the main lake to check on the high tide wader roost. The islands just off the car park were my first stop as there was a flock of 45 roosting Grey Plovers and three Black-tailed Godwits. All of the plovers were greys, but it was worth the look at many were still in summer plumage.

Grey Plovers

The last few times I have visited Farlington the water level on the main lagoon had been high, and today was no exception. A couple of Little Egrets and a roost of 24 Common Redshank were the only birds of note, although a Whinchat and three Common Whitethroats were flitting around the scrub. A quick scan of the horizon picked up the Osprey, but it was a long way off, roosting on trees on North Binness Island.

The quickest route to get a better view of North Binness was along the stream, and as this was also the most likely place for Curlew Sandpipers, I headed that way. There was a good sized flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and feeding along the stream, with around 50 Common Redshank and five Curlew Sandpipers. At least 10 of the godwits were colour-ringed but I was on a mission to get better views of the Osprey, so decided to come back this way later in the hope that they were still there.

Black-tailed Godwits

I did linger long enough to scope the Curlew Sandpipers and take a couple of pictures. All of the birds were juveniles with their neatly fringed upper parts.

Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew Sandpipers
Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew Sandpipers
Roosting Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpipers

I headed along the track, but was slightly stumped by the fence being across and cattle being moved. Fortunately the farmer had not really started herding the cattle and so I was able to get past. There were at least 100 Yellow Wagtails feeding around the cattle, but again I did not linger too long.

As I got up onto the sea wall the Osprey was still sat there and now the views through the scope were much better, but it was really to far for photos. I took a couple with my trusty old SLR before reverting to a bit of digiscoping with my very old Sony. 

Osprey on Tree on North Binness Island

The combination of poor light and a crap camera did not do the bird any justice, but at least it was a record shot.

Digiscoped Osprey on North Binness Island

I headed back along the stream and through the bushes, the Curlew Sands were still their but unfortunately all the godwits had gone. I watched the Curlew Sands again for a while until they took flight and headed over the scrape and out of sight. 

The bushes were bursting with birds with the majority being a flock of at least 1000 Starlings, but also good numbers of Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Titchfield Haven - End of August Update 2014

This weeks ringing activities ended with a decidedly mixed weekend. Saturday started with strong winds and heavy rain whereas Sunday was still and calm after a clear night. We had planned one of our public events on the Saturday morning and were on the verge of calling it off when the rained eased and the wind dropped. The adverse overnight weather was not ideal for a good ringing total but that did mean that we had time to discuss the birds we caught in detail with our guests. We struggled to a total of only 37 birds which included Sedge (8), Reed (8), Grasshopper (2) and Cetti's Warblers (1), Whitethroats (8) and Blackcaps (4). As with most ringing sessions there is usually a stand out species and this sessions was a stunning juvenile male Eurasian Sparrowhawk. This was the first Sparrowhawk we have ringed this year and it certainly proved to be a crowd pleaser.

Juvenile Male Eurasian Sparrowhawk

It is relatively straight forward to age and sex Sparrowhawks, males are much smaller than females and therefore biometric measurements of a wing or tarsus can determine sex. Age is determined by the presence of chestnut fringing to the upper parts and bold heart shaped markings on the underparts. The iris colour is described as grey-olive in Baker (1993) for a first winter, becoming bright yellow, sometimes with a hint of orange in a second winter. This individual had a bright yellow iris which may suggest it was from an early brood. For comparison I have included an image of a second winter male that ringed in December 2012.

Second winter male ringed in December 2012 

In the image below the heart shaped tips to the feathers on the underparts are clearly evident as is the chestnut fringing on the subsequent images.

Juvenile Sparrowhawk showing heart shaped tips
Juvenile male Sparrowhawk showing broad chestnut fringing to upperparts
Juvenile male Sparrowhawk showing broad chestnut fringing to upper parts and tail

By contrast Sunday can only be described as a bit manic. The previous nights weather had evidently halted migration for a while and birds were desperate to get going. Our total was an excellent 324 birds including Sedge (108), Reed (49) and Grasshopper Warblers (40). Blackcaps had evidently started to move with 80 ringed, and Common Whitethroat numbers remained strong with another 14 ringed. Other species included a further 15 Willow Warblers, eight Chiffchaff, two Garden Warblers and our first Pied Flycatcher of the year.

I have updated the graph and table which compares this years total up to the 31st August with those of 14th September for the years 2010 to 2013. The outstanding total remains that of Willow Warbler which is evidently a record year for us. All the other key migrant species also appear to have had a good breeding seasons with the majority of the totals being above average and some, such as Reed and Cetti's Warblers already being above of close to the September 14th totals of previous years.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been making some changes. One of those changes in the addition of a new page which provides some recent recoveries from the Haven, which is viewable by clicking on the tab at the top of the page.
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