Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gulls in Flight at Walpole Park, Gosport

This morning a team of us went to Walpole Park in the hope of catching some Black-headed Gulls. From my previous posts about the site you may have gathered that the gulls there are very tame, and so we have decided to try and catch and colour-ring some birds. Rather than setting up our own scheme, we are piggy-backing of another scheme in Hampshire for Black-headed Gulls, but also have a handful of Mediterranean and Common Gull colour rings, just in case we manage to catch any of them. Today we failed to catch any gulls, although a Herring Gull toyed with us for a while, before flying off. We did however ring three Mute Swans, a ringing tick for each of the three trainees present.

Whilst hanging around at the site I decided to have another play with my new camera, and in particular try it out on birds in flight. When using my camera I tend to use it on manual and use auto ISO. For all of the images below I used 1/500th of a second shutter speed and an aperture of 5.6, wide open on my Canon 400 f5.6. This morning it was overcast and dull and the camera was selecting an ISO of between 200 and 800. There were four species of gull present, but as I mentioned earlier the Herring Gull was hanging around by the net and so I didn't get a chance to photograph that one; the others were Common Gull, Black-headed Gull and of course the ever present Ring-billed Gull.

Ring-billed Gull
This adult winter Ring-billed Gull has always been very approachable, so much so that I don't think I have taken many flight shots of it. The series of shots below shows very clearly the small white window in the black wing tip, which is one of the ID features.

I know, not a flight shot but thought I would include it anyway, this must be the most photographed Ring-billed Gull in the country.

Common Gull
Another adult winter bird, note the size of the white window on this bird, and how much larger it is than the Ring-billed it is.

Black-headed Gull
The images below are all again adult winter birds, hopefully I will have some pictures of these in the hand soon.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Manor Farm Country Park - November 2014

It was an absolutely glorious start to the day this morning, and well worth the pre-dawn start.  We had arrived on site at 6:30 with the aim of getting at least some nets up and open before first light, and achieved that goal. Chris had to leave at around 9:30 so we limited ourselves to just six nets, which in the event was ample.

Sunrise over Manor Farm Country Park

The target species was as ever House Sparrow for my RAS project, and to colour ring birds for next years breeding season, but of course anything else that happens upon a net is also ringed. The session was very successful with a total of 33 birds ringed, 21 House Sparrow (16 new and five retraps), four Goldcrest (all new), two Dunnocks (one new and one retrap), two Robin (one new and one retrap) and three Blue Tits (two new and one retrap).

In a previous post I have discussed ageing House Sparrows in the winter, and have spent considerable time looking at the bill colour of birds, particularly males. The bill colour in males is a secondary sexual characteristic, and when sexually active in the breeding season, it becomes jet black. According to various published papers it reverts back to the pale brown or horn colour of females in the winter months.  Studies have shown that the change in colour is driven by the presence of testosterone, but one study concluded that the darkening of the bill was the result of synergistic effects of gonadotropins and testosterone (Anderson, T.R. 2006: Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow - from Genes to Population. Oxford University Press).

Given that we are now at the end of November, the bill colour of male birds should no longer be black, yet two of the males clearly still had black bills.

House Sparrow - Manor Farm CP. This bird was originally ringed 2nd January 2010 and is now approaching five years since its initial ringing date
House Sparrow - Manor Farm CP. This bird was first ringed on 7th March 2014 so presumably bred in 2014

By contrast the bird below was ringed as a 3J on 22nd June 2014 and therefore is a first year bird and will not yet have bred. The bill colour of this male is the typical colour of a juvenile or female, indicating that the bird has yet to become sexually active. Another thing to note about this known juvenile is the extent of fringing on the head feathers, which is considerably greater than in the two known adult males.

First year male House Sparrow - originally ringed on 22nd June 2014 as a juvenile.

The three male below were all new birds. Given that I have been ringing at the site for over 15 years there is a pretty good chance that the majority of the new birds ringed each winter are juveniles. I admit I am never going to catch every single new bird at the site, and it is often surprising how many unhinged birds I see each visit, but a fair percentage of the adult birds at the site will be ringed.

Therefore looking at the images of the three birds below, the colour of the bill and the extent of fringing on the head feathers, could these three be juveniles too? Of the three the first bird is perhaps the least likely since it does have very dark lores and mask, and fringing is not as extensive as the other two birds below, nor in fact the known juvenile above. Looking at the two adult birds, they are showing very obvious white patches above the eye and where the black mask meets the grey feathers of the forehead, which the bird below is not exhibiting. Personally, I think all these three birds are juveniles.

House Sparrow Manor Farm CP, first ringed 29th November 2014
House Sparrow Manor Farm CP, first ringed 29th November 2014
House Sparrow Manor Farm CP, first ringed 29th November 2014

Whilst ringing the other birds of note recorded were one Raven, 27 Redwing, two Fieldfare, one Little Egret, one Grey wagtail, five Pied Wagtails and two Little Owls.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Bunny Meadows Revisited...Again - November 2014

Having been confined to the office for most of the week, it was nice to be out in the fresh air again today. I must apologise if there is a feeling of deja vu with this post, but as the tide was rising when I ventured out, I headed down to Bunny Meadows again. It was about two hours off high tide when I arrived so there was still some intertidal visible, and wading birds were starting to accumulate on and around the small islands. However, it was not a wader that first caught my eye but a tern, a Sandwich Tern. Occasionally this species does winter in Hampshire, particularly in Langstone Harbour and around Hayling Island. Time will tell whether this bird stays for the winter, or was just a late migrant.

Sandwich Tern - Bunny Meadows

With the tide pushing up I was able to get some nice views of the hundreds of birds present and continue to test out my new camera. Dunlin was by far the most numerous species with over 600 birds present, Grey Plover next with 35. Four of the Grey Plovers were colour-ringed, probably by Pete Potts, so will hopefully be able to let you know the details soon. It was interesting to note that all four of the colour-ringed birds used the same staging point, before moving onto the main roost; presumably they feel like they all have something in common.

Grey Plovers - Bunny Meadows

The other wader species present were Eurasian Curlew (5), Common Ringed Plover (3), Oystercatcher (3), Common Redshank (9) and one Red Knot

Common Redshank - Bunny Meadows

The Eurasian Wigeon has to be amongst my favourite ducks and there were just shy of 50 birds on the marsh. Disturbance levels were much lower at Bunny Meadows during this visit and the wigeon were much more chilled out. As well as the wigeon, around 30 each, Eurasian Teal and Dark-bellied Brent Geese were also present.

Eurasian Wigeon - Bunny Meadows
Eurasian Wigeon - Bunny Meadows

Several Ruddy Turnstones were doing what they do, turning stones and chattering away to each other. One of these birds was also colour-ringed, again probably a bird ringed by Pete Potts. I have recorded a colour-ringed turnstone here before, but this bird was not that bird, so once again will let you know the info when I find out.

Ruddy Turnstone - Bunny Meadows

As the tide continued to rise the Dunlin started to move around in tight flocks seeking out the last remaining patches of mud. Although there were only 600 birds it is always a pretty spectacular sight to see flocks of waders wheeling around.

Dunlin - Bunny Meadows
Dunlin - Bunny Meadows
Dunlin - Bunny Meadows

Once the waders had settled down to roost I started to head back to the car. A Great Cormorant had settled on one of the rails, using the late afternoon sun to dry its wings, and I took advantage of the the tame Black-headed Gulls to further test out my new camera.

Cormorant - Bunny Meadows
Black-headed Gull - Bunny Meadows

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Golden Plovers at Bunny Meadows - November 2014

The weather forecast for this weekend was for rain, rain and more rain and so I didn’t make any arrangements for ringing on Saturday, instead I thought I would venture out and play with my new Canon 7D MK2. My initial plan was to go to Blashford Lakes, but I ended up staying local, birding at Bunny Meadows before heading down to the sea front at Hillhead.

It was a dull and overcast day with light drizzle, and so not ideal light conditions for trying out your new camera, but at least it wasn’t the predicted heavy rain. The tide was high so I headed down to the old wooden jetty, the best place for roosting birds. There was a good selection of wetland birds present, with a scattering along the main causeway en-route to the causeway. Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard and Dark-bellied Brent Geese were present in small numbers and a lone Little Egret fed on the tide line. A single roosting Eurasian Curlew was the only wader present along the main causeway.

The wader roost at the old jetty was as expected with a fine selection of waders present. The totals included over 400 Dunlin, nine Greenshank, 38 Grey Plover, 32 Redshank, 16 Black-tailed Godwit, four Grey Plover and 10 Golden Plover. The Golden Plovers were roosting on the end of the small spit on the main causeway side, making them very susceptible to disturbance, but at the same time very close. They were nestled down in the vegetation and therefore could not be easily seen, in fact I only picked them up because a slight movement caught my eye.

Golden Plovers - Bunny Meadows
Golden Plovers hidden amongst Sea Purslane - their gold spangled plumage providing the perfect camouflage

Unfortunately, disturbance levels on this stretch of the Hamble estuary are very high and today was no exception, despite the bad weather. Numerous dogs were running out of control off the lead, as were many children, although admittedly they are not normally kept on a lead. I spent a good 30 minutes with the goldies but as I was watching them, a man with three children came along the causeway. The children immediately began throwing sticks and stones into the water near me and shouting loudly and I had to bite my tongue so I didn't tell them to shut up. The commotion unsettled the goldies and they moved from the shelter of the vegetation to the water’s edge, whilst I scowled with disapproval. The man eventually told them to be quiet but they paid little attention, fortunately they gradually moved off, allowing the goldies to settle back down.

Golden Plovers, Bunny Meadows
Golden Plovers, Bunny Meadows
Golden Plovers, Bunny Meadows
Golden Plover, Bunny Meadows
Golden Plover, Bunny Meadows - This shot was digiscoped with my Panasonic Lumix GF2 and Swarovski scope. I enjoyed photographing these birds so much that I thought I would make the most of it.

After Bunny Meadows, I headed to Hillhead; I didn’t go into the Haven but spent my time scanning offshore. There was nothing of note out there but in the harbour the Turnstones were feeding on the tideline and roosting on the groynes. A further opportunity to test out my new camera, so I took it.

Ruddy Turnstone, Hillhead
Ruddy Turnstone, Hillhead

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Titchfield Haven - End of Year Summary 2014

After what has been a generally successful season at the Haven, we have hung up our bird bags and migrated to other sites. The season ended with a total of 4651 full grown birds, one pulli, and 259 retraps of 44 species, bringing the grand total to 4911. The undoubted highlights were the Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler, the Cuckoo and the Yellow-browed Warbler. Besides the rarity highlights there were also some record catches for our standard fare, namely Robin, Blackcap and Willow Warbler. Other highlights included the first Woodcock for the site, the Wood Warbler and the Pied Flycatcher. Having now entered all the totals into IPMR there have been some slight amendments to the totals, with Willow Warbler slightly down to 268 and Grasshopper Warbler up to 341.

Table of Ringing Totals for 2014 in the autumn ringing area, the numbers
in red represent highest or equal highest totals for the site.

I have previously posted graphs showing species totals between 1998 and 2014, with trend lines to illustrate how the numbers have increased or declined over that period. For this post I thought I would show how similar species have fared over that same period, so below are comparisons for Whitethroat verses Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff verses Willow Warbler, Blackcap verses Garden Warbler and Reed Warbler verses Sedge Warbler.

Comparison of ringing totals for Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat
Comparison of ringing totals for Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler
Comparison of ringing totals for Blackcap and Garden Warbler
Comparison of ringing totals for Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler

It is interesting to see how the numbers of the different species have varied over the period, and how some species are just that much rarer than others. The most obvious being Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap and Garden Warbler. It is also interesting to note how the peaks and troughs for each species are mirrored in many cases, with fluctuations in numbers being more pronounced in species with the highest totals.

Our ringing studies will be continuing over the winter, with visits Manor Farm Country Park, Farlington Marshes and Walpole Park all planned, and from there we will see where things take us.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A Gruesome find on the Beach at Hill Head

Last Sunday, 9th November, I had a call from local birder Dan Houghton, informing me of a cetacean corpse that had washed up on the beach at Hill Head. As luck would have it, Dylan Walker, a marine biologist and co-founder of Whalefest and the World Cetacean Alliance, was staying with me, so we headed down to Hill Head to check it out.

Cetacean Corpse, Hill Head - November 2014

The corpse was very badly decomposed and it was evident that it must have been floating around out at sea for a while. The beak was exposed and all the teeth were missing, and the rib cage and backbone were exposed. There was no evidence of fishing nets wrapped around it, and there was no obvious evidence of a propeller strike, but it was in very poor condition and difficult to make out anything. Given its condition it was clearly going to be tricky to get a positive ID as to species, but there were a few pointers to guide us.

Beak of Cetacean Corpse, Hill Head

The corpse measured around 2 meters in length, which would tend to rule out Harbour Porpoise, since this species averages 1.5m in length, with the largest being 1.9m. It would probably also rule Bottle-nosed Dolphin as this species would be much larger, although of course it could be a juvenile. The beak was damaged but it was possible to count 30 tooth holes, again too many for Harbour Porpoise, which usually has between 22 - 28, but interestingly not enough for Short-beaked Common Dolphin which would have between 41 - 57 pairs of teeth, and what we considered to be our most likely candidate.

Exposed Ribs and Vertebrae 

There were no other clues for us to work with and we may never find out what the species was, but it was apparently being collected and therefore DNA analysis will undoubtedly hold the key to its identity. We were able to establish that it was a male, and this is evident in the image below.

Male Genitalia on Cetacean Corpse at Hill Head 

Harbour Porpoises and Common Dolphins have been recorded in The Solent and I posted previously about a Harbour Porpoise corpse which washed up at Hill Head in August 2012. There is of course no telling where this corpse has come from since it has obviously been floating around at sea for a while, so who knows what it will turn out to be.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Calshot Marshes and Spit - November 2014

This morning I headed to Calshot Marshes and spit with Simon Colenutt in the hope of seeing the Snow Bunting that had been frequenting the area for a few days. It had not been seen since Wednesday, but we decided to go and have a look just in case. Heavy overnight rain delayed our start, but by the time we arrived on site it had cleared through and sun was breaking out. We spent a couple of hours pottering around the area but unfortunately had no luck with the Snow Bunting, there were however plenty of birds around to keep us occupied. 

Several Rock Pipits were feeding around the puddles on the access road, one individual was particularly tame and allowed me to get close enough for some half decent images. A flock of around 20 Greenfinches were feeding on the beach, these were proving pretty flighty and wouldn't settle down. Off shore there were several Cormorants, Great-crested Grebes and a Grey Seal, which was a bit of a surprise.

Rock Pipit, Calshot - November 2014

A good selection of waders were on the marsh including, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

Two Dunlin, Calshot - November 2014

The tide was going out and in the shallow channels several Little Egrets were feeding, at least six were present. Their energetic feeding style was entertaining to watch and in the glorious sun we spent a few minutes watching and photographing them.

Little Egret, Calshot Marshes - November 2014
Little Egret and Dunlin, Calshot Marshes - November 2014

Fifteen Black-headed Gulls were roosting on the exposed mud, two of them were ringed with metal rings. One bird flew off and we were unable to get the ring number, the other one frustrated us by only allowing us to read half of the ring numbers before it too flew off. Whilst trying to read the ring number on the Black-head an adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in. It settled down and meticulously preened, spending an amazingly long amount of time on its primaries.

Adult Mediterranean Gull preening, Calshot Marsh - November 2014

It never ceases to amaze me how these pure white gulls keep their feathers so clean, especially when they spend much of their time in such dirty environments, this bird looked immaculate when it had finished.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Calshot Marshes - November 2014

After Calshot we headed to Lepe where we spent most of our time in the small copse and looking over the Dark Water. There was very little of note to report, the highlight being a Firecrest, and couple of Bullfinches and a Coal Tit.
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