Monday, 29 December 2014

Ice Cold in Hampshire

If the weatherman is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt him, last night was the coldest night of the year. The sub-zero temperature had produced a heavy frost and I was unable to get the solid ice out of the bird baths, and so had to fill up some saucers with water and place them around the garden. 

It was frozen at Titchfield Haven too, the first time I think I have seen that this year, and the waders and gulls were roosting on the ice at the southern  end of the River Meon. However, it was not the roosting gulls that drew my attention, but the waders feeding on the intertidal. In the 35+ years that I have been visiting Hill Head, things have changed, the intertidal area has become more sandy, and this in turn has attracted small flocks of Sanderling. The numbers remain fairly small, this morning I counted only nine birds, that were feeding with a single Dunlin and a handful of Ringed Plovers. Because the beach is well used for recreation at low tide the birds are generally quite approachable, and these were no exception.

Sanderling - Hill Head
Sanderling - Hill Head
Dunlin - Hill Head

I spent a good half an hour with the Sanderling, despite having only seen, and photographed them recently at Southsea, and then moved on around the foreshore. There wasn't much of note to report, Oystercatchers were common, as were Ringed Plovers and Turnstones, but other than the Sanderlings, Dunlin and single Grey Plover and Redshank, there wasn't much else.

Black-tailed Godwits - Titchfield Haven

Before heading off I had a quick scan over the frozen river, there were mainly Black-headed, but also Common and Herring Gulls. Four Black-tailed Godwits were also present, but they must of got cold feet and flew up the valley. A cheeky Fox was soaking up the sun on a south facing slope. It was clearly visible from the roadside viewing area and seemed unperturbed by my presence, although it did occasionally have a quick peak to see who was watching it.

Fox - Titchfield Haven

After my visit to the Haven I headed up to a site in East Hampshire where there was meant to be a Red Kite roost. Apparently up to 40 birds have previously been recorded there but recently it has numbered around the low 20's. It was still bitterly cold but the clear sky meant the light was excellent. I parked up on the corner of a farm track and almost immediately three Red Kites drifted over. Several Common Buzzards were also milling around, at one point I counted seven, but there was most likely more.

Red Kite - East Hampshire

As I waited for more kites to show I was entertained by a couple of Robins, who were being typically territorial, and several Brown Hares that were showing occasional signs of their March madness.

Robin - East Hampshire
Brown Hare - East Hampshire

There were several Red Kites coming into the roost by now but most of them were distant, which was a bit disappointing, the local Buzzards were coming much closer and enabled me to get the odd photo. The kites were generally just flying leisurely towards the roost and perching up, but just when I though that they had settled down, they would all take flight and chase each other briefly before settling back down.

Common Buzzard - East Hampshire
Red Kites - East Hampshire
Roosting Red Kites - East Hampshire

As the light, and the temperature dropped the kites settled down, and so did the level of bird activity, although a male Pied Wagtail continued to feed on the frozen farm pond. It seemed to be a very unlikely place to be feeding, when the farm yard appeared to have much more to offer, but it was actively picking up little morsels from the surface. Eventually it too flew off to roost, but as it did the moon put on a spectacular show.

Skating Pied Wagtail - East Hampshire
The Moon

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Continuing Quest for Crests

The wind over the last couple of days has been getting steadily stronger, and the blustery conditions have made it much more difficult to find sheltered sites. Yesterday, I headed back to Manor Farm Country Park to try and catch some more Firecrests there. I initially retrapped the two birds that I had ringed with Rob on 20th December, but after trying a few different sites, I caught a new female. Five new Blue Tits were the only other species ringed.

Firecrest - Manor Farm Country Park

This morning the wind was even stronger and so I headed to a couple of local sites that I had been saving for such conditions. At the first site I could hear a Goldcrest singing and quickly caught two, followed by another new Firecrest and a Robin.

Goldcrest - Funtley
Firecrest - Funtley

My final destination of the day was another very sheltered site, about a mile south of the first. This area is dominated with yew and cherry laurel, and therefore there is plenty of cover. I sat and listened for a while but did not hear a crest, undeterred I set a net and yep you've guessed it, I caught another new Firecrest and also a Goldcrest.

Firecrest - Funtley

So that is now 10 new Firecrests and 17 new Goldcrests that I have ringed at four sites since the beginning of November. All of the birds have been using areas that were dominated with evergreen shrubbery, usually holly and yew, but cherry laurel and rhododendron is also used. Such sites presumably provide the best shelter and food, and it will be interesting to see if the same birds use the same sites next winter. I have previously seen wintering Firecrests at all the sites I have visited so far, so time will tell. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Quest for Crests

This morning I met up with Chris and after yesterdays success we decided to go off in search of yet more crests, this time to the Wildgrounds at Gosport. Chris had seen a few there the other day, and as it was windy, setting nets amongst the dense holly seemed like a good plan. At the first site we had at least two Firecrests hanging around the net, but they just would not go in. I think they could see it moving in the wind. Our second site was set back in denser holly and quickly caught one Firecrest. This bird was much duller than those of the previous day, and the crown was principally coloured yellow, suggesting it to be a female. We continued to another couple of sites but did not see any other birds; however we know that there were at least three birds present so will try again. So currently seven Firecrests and counting, I wonder how many more are in the local area.

Firecrest - The Wildgrounds, Gosport
Firecrest - The Wildgrounds, Gosport

On returning home I was pleased to see that an unringed Marsh Tit was on the feeders in the garden. This is the first Marsh Tit I have seen in the garden for a couple of years, and the first unringed bird in the garden for three years at least. I know of one pair successfully breeding in the local area, but I suspect this territory is a bit too far from my garden, so hopefully this bird from a more local one.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A retrap Little Owl, Redwings and Firecrests at Manor Farm Country Park

After the success of last weekend, this morning Rob and I headed back to Manor Farm Country Park for some more ringing. Our plan was to try and catch more House Sparrows and Redwings, so it was a pre-dawn start to set the nets. As it turned out it was a bit breezy and so we were unable to set some of our usual nets, and instead had to settle for setting some in more sheltered locations. We had instant success on the first round, with two new Redwings and a Little Owl. The Little Owl was one of the birds that we had caught back in early November; it had put on some weight since when it was last caught, but the best thing was being able to get a good look at it in daylight.

Little Owl - Manor Farm Country Park
Little Owl - Manor Farm Country Park

The second net round produced another two Redwings and eleven Long-tailed Tits, but as the wind was really starting to pick up now we decided to call it a day at the farm and move into the woods.

Redwing - Manor Farm Country Park

Last winter I had regularly seen Firecrests in the woods at Manor Farm, particularly where evergreen shrubbery, such as Holly and Yew, was present, so we decided to go and see if any were there this winter. We only had about an hour so stopped off at a couple of likely places; the first location produced a male Firecrest, in the same bush as last year, although it was not the same bird as this one was a first year bird. 

Male Firecrest - Manor Farm Country Park

The second location also proved to have a Firecrest present, another male and also three Goldcrests. These are the fifth and sixth Firecrests I have caught since the beginning of November, and may not be the last of the year. I have now finished work until the new year and hope to get out and search for more.

Male Firecrest - Manor Farm Country Park
Female Goldcrest (left) and Male Firecrest (right) - Manor Farm Country Park

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Bringing up the half century, Bird Ringing and the Barred Warbler on Portland

It has been a bit of a milestone for me this week in that I celebrated my 50th birthday, as a result much of my time has been spent on social events, or recovering from them! That said I have still been able to get in a couple of ringing sessions, and also a visit to Portland Bill to catch up with the Barred Warbler.

The first session was on Friday 12th December, I met Rob at Curbridge in the hope of catching some Goldcrests and Firecrests. Unfortunately we didn't succeed on the Firecrest front but did catch five Goldcrests and a couple of Blue Tits. After Curbridge we headed to Manor Farm Country Park, to set nets for the following morning, but left the nets open for a while just in case. A Treecreeper was the only notable capture, the other seven birds were a re-trap Goldcrest, five Long-tailed Tits and a Great Tit.

Eurasian Treecreeper

The morning of Saturday 13th December was cold, with a light frost, which fortunately hadn't frozen my furled nets. I was joined by Rob and Megan for a pre-dawn start, but was on a tight deadline as I had to be home by 11am. The pre-dawn start proved well worth the effort as we caught seven Redwing on the first round, with a further seven caught throughout the session. In total we caught 28 birds, which other than the 14 Redwing included two Blackbirds, one Song Thrush, eight House Sparrows, four of which were retraps and single Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Dunnock.

After a night away in Dorset I decided to pop into the bird observatory on Portland to look for the wintering Barred Warbler. I arrived expecting the bird to be performing well, as it had been for the last week, but chose the time when it decided not to show for about an hour and a half. Eventually, though it was back in the apple laden Sycamore in the Obs garden. It was a very active bird which rather than sitting and feeding on one apple, jumped around sampling a piece of each one that was on offer. It had one of its outer tail feathers hanging off, but otherwise was a very smart bird, performing much better than the usual skulkers that I have seen. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first Barred Warbler that I have seen in the UK for many years, so it was good to catch up with this bird. My most recent Barred Warblers have been spring birds that I have encountered whilst guiding for Ornitholidays in Turkey.

Barred Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory
Barred Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory
Barred Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory
Barred Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory
Barred Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory

Friday, 12 December 2014

Sanderling at Southsea Castle

I heard back from Pete Potts the other day that the colour-ringed Sanderling I saw at Southsea Castle on 6th December was indeed on of his. It would appear that any bird ringed with a blue flag will have been ringed in the UK and by Farlington Ringing Group, Pete being the lead ringer. This bird was originally ringed on 18th September 2013, at Eastoke, Hayling Island, Hampshire, so this sighting was only about 10km west of its original capture site. It has been sighted 12 time since it capture, with all of the sightings being on Hayling Island, except two, which were mine and a sighting from Ryde Sands on the Isle of Wight on 17th February 2014.

Colour-ringed Sanderling, Southsea Castle, Hampshire

Out of interest I recently saw that a different colour-ringed bird was recorded at Southsea Castle on 29th November 2014. This bird was originally ringed on 3rd October 2011, and has been recorded every winter since on Hayling Island, with occasional visits to other locations including Ryde Sands, on the Isle of Wight and Gilkicker Point, Gosport.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Waders at Southsea Castle

This afternoon I took advantage of the fantastic weather and headed down to Southsea Castle to look and hopefully photograph the wintering Purple Sandpipers, and anything else that might be there. I arrived at around 1:30pm which was about an hour after high tide, so at least some of the sea defence where the birds usually are found was exposed. 

The first two birds I saw when I arrived were a couple of Sanderling, one adult and one first winter, the adult bird was also colour-ringed. They were feeding at the eastern end of the sea defence, picking through the seaweed and were extremely confiding. The top two images are of the juvenile bird and it is possible to see the retained brownish juvenile tertials and other wing feathers. The third and fourth images are of the adult bird, the uniform plumage of the upper parts, and blackish, and less pointed primary tips are evident.

There are various colour-ringing schemes being carried out in different countries on Sanderling, the colour of the flag should give an indication as to which country the bird was ringed in. I could not find a blue flag mentioned and so have emailed to organiser, but it may be that this bird is one of those that was ringed at Sandy Point on Hayling Island a few years back.

The second species that I recorded was a Knot. A single bird had been reported earlier in the week and I had hoped it might still be around. This bird was feeding in the middle section of the sea defences, and again was very confiding, although it did take flight when a large dog came skidding along towards it. This bird was also a first winter with the contrast between the adult and juvenile feathers very evident. The juvenile feathers are the grey brownish ones with a dark subterminal band.

Purple Sandpiper
There were at least 11 Purple Sandpipers feeding in the central and western parts of the sea defences. Initially the were quite close in, but as the tide receded they mover further out. Photographing them was tricky as I was having to shoot into the sun most of the time, and it was not possible get really close to them as the ground was too slippery. 

Rock Pipit
There was only one Rock Pipit present and this bird was picking amongst the cracks . This bird also appeared to be a first winter bird; this was based on the fact that the two outermost greater coverts appear to be more broadly fringed, buff coloured and longer. The juvenile feathers appear shorter and fringed whitish.

Colour Ring Sightings Update

You can tell from my lack of posting this week that I have not been out in the field, although I did manage a couple of 30 minute ringing sessions in the garden at work. The result was four birds, a Blue Tit, retrap Nuthatch and Robin on Wednesday 3rd and a Firecrest on Friday 5th December. The Firecrest is the 5th I have ringed so far this year, hopefully there will be a few more yet.

I did hear back from Pete Potts regarding the colour ringed Grey Plovers and Turnstone that I had seen at Bunny Meadows on 28th November. As suspected all of the birds were ringed by Pete, and one of them, DD51882, I had seen back on 22nd August, also at Bunny Meadows. The details of each bird are provided below.


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