Saturday, 26 September 2009

Holme Pierrepont - Sat 26 Sept

It was a good start to the day - a young male Sparrowhawk was one of the first birds in the nets and as usual it was a great crowd-pleaser. The weather was pretty kind to us again today. Despite forecasts of blazing sun it remained overcast and with only the lightest breath of wind. As seems to have been the pattern over the last few years it has been a gorgeous September but there's no escaping the fact that the migrants are dwindling. Of our total of 64 birds, just under half were migrant warblers, all except two were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Single late Reed and Willow Warblers were nice and you can test your Phylloscopus ID skills on the pic below. Answer further down...
Of course there's no need to guess in the hand, particularly once you've inspected the wing formulae and these two were fairly typical individuals, even if the photo doesn't make it particularly easy to appreciate the overall shapes of the wings. Willows have longer, more pointed wings for migrating further (many reach South Africa) and Chiffs have shorter, rounder wings (don't cross the equator and often don't even leave Europe). Click on the picture to see a larger version.
Despite the attention to detail, once you've handled a few you can tell the difference fairly easily from an overall impression that seems to take into account a large number of different subtle features. On the pic below, look on the left at the Chiffchaff's slightly smaller, darker bill, more rounded head and less distinct supercilium which turns buff behind the eye and compare with the Willow on the right. On the first photo these features are not quite so obvious - and the birds are the other way round!
A few more Long-tailed Tits appeared today in amongst the resident birds that are making up an increasing proportion of the catch. Wildfowl and Meadow Pipits were obvious again, the former being flushed by a hot air balloon. The only hirundines today were 4 Swallows. The odd butterfly appeared (mostly Speckled Wood) and both Common Darter and Migrant Hawker emerged with the sun around midday. This is a Migrant Hawker - a female I think.
Lastly, as we made our way out we came across this beauty:
It's a Shaggy Ink Cap Coprinus comatus. So called because there is a smooth common species and as it releases its spores, the gills rapidly deliquesce into black fluid. Eventually the whole cap melts away, leaving just a spindly white stem. If you're feeling adventurous, it is edible.


Parky learns about SNRG!

The other day, Nottingham Trent Chancellor - Sir Michael Parky - visited the Brackenhurst campus and was given a quick introduction to bird ringing by our very own Andrew Whitelee. Unfortunately Andrew was too busy with his duties to get any pics, so I took the liberty of mocking one up to give a flavour of the occasion...


A quick addition to last week's sightings at Holme Pierrepont - Michael was lucky enough to see a large Grass Snake on the path when he walked back!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Shiants 2010

There can't be many readers of this blog who are still unaware of the record-breaking Puffins found on the Shiants Isles this summer. Jim will be running a trip again next year and SNRG members are welcome to join up. Dates will be 19 June to 3 July. If you are interested or want to know more, contact Jim.

Mick's garden

Pete asked me the other day what bird I would like to catch next in my garden. Because bird numbers had dropped off and it had been pretty quiet I said that I would be happy with anything.
Later, after giving it more thought I decided that of the regular birds a starling would be good. We occasionally get flocks of about 20 rampaging through.
Imagine my suprise when on Sunday morning I found this in my net. Yes, a starling! (And a nice easy one to age with plenty of brown juvenile plumage left!)

More satellite tracking

Here's a project that is tracking Red-footed Falcons. If you click on the orange text box there's a neat Google Maps page where you can choose a bird and see its movements. Virag and Csalan seem to be the most restless at the moment. Will be great to see when and how they head south.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Holme Pierrepont - Saturday 19 September

About time too. The wind-free day we had been waiting for finally came - and what a glorious morning it was. We put up 14 nets and things were slow to begin with, but luckily this was not a sign of things to come. Flocks were active until at least 13:00h and we even found some Long-tailed Tits. We finished on 127 birds (including 15 retraps) and as one would expect, of this total >90% were young birds. The breakdown was as follows:
37 Blackcap
18 Long-tailed Tit
13 Chiffchaff
8 Great Tit
7 Dunnock
7 Robin
7 Blue Tit
7 Reed Bunting
5 Blackbird
4 Bullfinch
3 Chaffinch
2 Great Spotted Woodpecker
2 Song Thrush
2 Reed Warbler
1 Kingfisher
1 Wren
1 Garden Warbler
1 Lesser Whitethroat
1 Spotted Flycatcher

So apart from Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, summer migrants are now very much on the wane. Many of the Blackcaps had fat scores of 4 and 5 and were clearly either on the move or about to leave. At the other extreme, we are still catching Blackcaps that have only just started their post-juvenile moult. Below is an interesting young male bird. It had virtually completed its post-juvenile moult and yet it still showed extensive brown in its crown. These feathers were definitely post-juvenile as some still had sheath at the base. All were black at the base and the brown was in fact a broad fringe.

Otherwise it was a normal juvenile bird and below you can see the single old greater covert in the wing and a couple of faint fault bars across the pointed tail. One of the highlights of the morning was a young Spotted Flycatcher. Although we occasionally ring chicks in the nest at certain sites, catching free-flying birds is not even an annual event these days. For those of us who remember how common this bird once was it seems strange and not a little sad that we are now at the stage where they have become such a rarity. Note the spotting on the greater coverts which is the most obvious clue to its age.
It was in amongst a large mixed flock which also contained Long-tailed Tits. It's interesting to note that although we caught 18 of these, they were in several small flocks and we have still yet to catch or see what one thinks of as a typical big flock (20+) this year.

Other crowd-pleasers included 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a young male Kingfisher. Note the all black bill (no orange base to the lower mandible) and generally blueish (not greenish-blue) colour of the upperparts which enable us to sex it. Aging is based on the brownish (not bright orange) feet and a few remaining dark scallops on the breast.
Michael was out for the first time with us today. Not a bad start! (Note Kingfishers have a habit of lying still for several seconds before flying away suddenly.)Away from the nets things had a very Autumnal feel. As we walked up in the dark about 45 Wigeon whistled overhead and through the morning Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal all put in an appearance. Black-headed Gull numbers have shot up, Meadow Pipits were more obvious too with perhaps 40 or 50 over in small flocks and a couple of Snipe were the first for a little while. Lastly, once the sun came out 3 Buzzards drifted over.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Mick's Garden

After two wedding receptions on Friday and Saturday night, I needed a lie in this Sunday morning. However I did put up a net in the garden, it was pretty quiet but I caught another new bird, a coal tit!
P.S. You can just see the 3 old greater coverts in the picture...

Swallow ponderings

I mentioned to a Kenyan friend that we'd had good Swallow passage over the last week and asked if he'd seen his first yet. I always used to see my first in Zambia around the second week of September. His reply was very interesting:

"In Kenya the situation with Swallows is more complex than just arriving in August. The birds appear in some numbers (particularly around Lake Victoria) by the end of June, they are all adults, but the increase in numbers at the end of June is contrary to an almost absence in early June. Certainly a very few winter on the lake, but this increase supports immigration to the area. From beginning of August they are widespread all over central and western Kenya, mainly near waterbodies and rivers. Maybe there are early breeders in the southern part of the range, which having bred at the beginning of the year and move south quite quickly. Northern birds have multiple broods to maintain numbers, but birds in tropics/sub-tropics do not share this tendency. I also wonder what happens to first brood offspring of Swallows in UK after they leave the nest, and the parents stay on to raise another couple of broods. I don’t think they are coming back to their winter quarters, as the first birds in late June are adults. Still a lot of intrigue in the commonest species!"

Roll on satellite trackers small enough for passerines...


Holme Pierrepont - Sun 13 September

Still not quite firing on all cylinders this Autumn. September usually brings us catches of 70+ birds and often nearer 100. Our total of 58 today continued the pattern of recent weeks and the disruptive 10 o'clock wind wasn't a minute late. But the weather surely doesn't tell the whole story though. We have still yet to catch (or even see) a decent flock of Long-tailed Tits (and therefore accompanying warblers). Might this have something to do with it?

However, it was a very pleasant morning with a beautiful sunrise and we enjoyed a good mix of species. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were most numerous and we also caught several Reed Warblers, a couple of Whitethroats and a single Lesser. Willows were conspicuous by their absence.

The odd Chiff was singing, but one of the most obvious calls through the morning was the squeaky effort of young Chiffchaffs. Here's a pic of one of their wings showing three unmoulted juvenile greater coverts, typically paler, browner and more faded.
Some of the Blackcaps in particular were carrying decent fat reserves (any challengers for another 'guess the weight' competition!?) but at the other extreme we are still catching juvenile birds that have barely started their post-juvenile moults.

Here's the tail of one of today's Whitethroats showing a cracking fault bar. This tells us that the tail feathers grew simultaneously and therefore it's a strong indication that the bird is a youngster as adults typically moult their tail feathers in sequence.
Not much in the way of other records. Meadow Pipits were more noticeable with a dozen over as well as 4 Shoveler, single Greenshank and Grey Wagtail and the odd Migrant Hawker.

So here's your homework for the week. We caught a Reed Bunting with intermediate aging features and decided to call it a '2'. Its wings and tail were fresh and it had a bit of body moult. So what was its moult code? Perhaps I'll throw that one into the Ringers' Forum and let them chew on it for a while...


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A few recoveries

A few recent recoveries sent through included several local Barn Owl movements. One ringed near Southwell was controlled 19km away near Grantham, and another moved 18km from Plumtree to Flintham. However, a bird from Widermerpool moved 123km to Yorkshire. A Brackenhurst Yellowhammer was found in Bleasby after a year (c5km away), a Goldfinch moved 88km into Lincs a Siskin controlled nr Inverness after 3yrs had moved 541km and a Reed Warbler ringed in Spain, was controlled at Holme Pierrepont the following year 1068km from where it had been caught originally.

More from Mick's garden

I was a bit disappointed at having to leave the ringing session at Holme Pierrepont early, especially as I ended up getting home earlier than necessary. But this meant that I had some time to spare so I decided to put up a 6m net. My disappointment subsided when I caught 3 Goldfinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Greenfinch and a new bird for the garden, a Willow Warbler.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Holme Pierrepont - Sunday 6 Sept

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the morning was the regular sight of Swifts overhead through the morning. Quite where they had come from is anyone’s guess, as is the number of individuals involved, but we must have had 20 sightings in amongst the steady stream of hirundines (esp House Martins).
It must be about a month since we last saw one. Anyway, onto the ringing. It was an overcast morning with a bit of a breeze and we reverted to the Grange side for a week. We notched up 58 birds, 14 of which were retraps. Migrant warblers, in order of abundance, were as follows:
17 Blackcap
13 Reed Warbler
5 Chiffchaff
3 Whitethroat
2 Sedge warbler (see photo)
1 Garden Warbler

The lack of large Long-tailed Tit flocks was still noticeable, but we had a few other sightings of interest including 110 Lapwing, 2 Grey Wagtails, 4 Gadwall, 1 Teal, 1 Greenshank and 1 Jay. Despite all the rain, the water levels are certainly just about as low as I’ve ever seen them.
Anyway, enough fun. Here are some instructive photos of young Blackbird, Dunnock and Robin...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

More from Mick's garden

The total of Hucknall birds now sporting SNRG bling is 16. This includes 2 Robins, 3 House Sparrows, 5 Greenfinches and 6 Goldfinches.
A 9m net just fits if set diagonally in my garden. This has proved fortunate because it bisects the birds' flight path to my feeders.
juvenile Goldfinch
young Robin
younger Robin

Holme Pierrepont - Sun 30 Aug

Another pleasant, but fairly short morning on the A52 side. We were stopped by strong wind between 11 and 12 but finished on 54 birds.
Today's top two: Whitethroat and Willow Warbler
Still good numbers of warblers and capture totals included:
9 Whitethroat
6 Willow Warbler
5 Lesser Whitethroat
5 Blackcap
2 Garden Warbler
2 Reed Warbler
2 Chiffchaff
Lesser Whitethroat
Amongst the birds caught was a control Chiffchaff in very heavy moult so one would guess that it hadn't come too far from its breeding grounds and therefore perhaps it had been ringed on passage - we shall have to wait and see. We also caught a young Greenfinch in the process of replacing its inner 5 primaries. We sometimes spot this aberrant moult in birds over the winter but it was interesting to see a bird going through the process and still with a streaky belly.
Garden Warbler
One noticeable feature of the day was the increase in visible migration. Sight records included at least 2 Whimbrel, a Greenshank, a Tree Pipit, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 12 Shoveler and several Meadow Pipits. Swallows and Sand Martins were also moving in a much more purposeful way to the south.