Friday, 29 October 2010


I have managed to study 3 Moorhens over the past few months. The first one back in July was a young juvenile whose flight feathers were only about half grown (unfortunately no pictures). The next two were netted at Arnot Hill Park in Arnold with the help of Chris one of the park rangers. Both were hatched this year (age code of 3). Hopefully the photos show the development and progression through the partial post juvenile moult of the body feathers ('Moult in Birds' by Ginn & Melville).

The first bird, FS03241, was caught in September and is showing a mixture of white and brown/grey feathers on the belly and breast, off white under the chin, upperparts olivaceous brown with little sheen and a greyish- brown iris.

The second bird, FS03242, was caught in October and has less white on the underparts, though still marked, and the upperparts show a mixture of juvenile brown and adult type ash- grey feathers especially on the head and nape. The iris is pretty red, by January it should be crimson. This bird has a wing length of 185mm which indicates it may be a male.

The 9th primary feather was narrow and pointed on both birds. ('Identification Guide to European Non-Passerines' by Baker) Neither bird had the red band on the legs or the red and yellow bill as seen on adults.

This is part of the on going study of the birds of Arnot Hill Park and our thanks go to Chris and Michael, the park rangers, and to Gedling Borough Council for their support.

Mick P

Thursday, 28 October 2010


It seems Common Redpolls are like buses then... Thought this might be a good opportunity to clarify a few things, just in case this turns out to be a good year for these beasts.

Redpoll taxonomy has always been complicated and they've been through a number of splits and lumps. However, currently three species occur in this country: Lesser, Common and Arctic. Arctics are by far the rarest, very white and sometimes separated into two forms: Coues's Redpoll (C. h. exilipes) from northern Europe and Hornemann's Redpoll (C. h. hornemanni) from Greenland and Canada. However, for the moment we can forget these.

So we're dealing really with two forms around here: Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) which is the form breeding in the UK and adjacent parts of Europe:

...and Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) from northern Europe which sometimes reach the UK as winter visitors.Common Redpolls were once known as 'Mealy Redpolls' when they were still lumped with Lessers a few years ago.

As you can see, both are very variable and there is quite a bit of overlap. Common Redpolls of the races 'rostrata' (from Greenland etc) and 'islandica' (Iceland) may also reach us from time to time, but let's not worry about those either for the moment.

So the most important issue for us is making sure we can separate Lesser Redpolls from Common Redpolls. As Mick found, when caught with Lessers, they do sometimes stick out. However, as Jim found, there is a lot of overlap and sometimes they can be tricky. So what should we look for? Well, in a nutshell, Common is a paler bird with longer wings and tail, whereas Lesser is a browner bird with shorter wings and tail. However, to break it down a bit more, try looking for:
1. head of Common often looks a bit greyer than uperparts
2. on underparts, Lesser has buff breast and flanks contrasting with white centre, Common has more uniformly pale ground colour
3. primary projection (comparing exposed primary tips with exposed tertials) is usually 100% or more in Common, and 100% or less in Lesser, though there is a bit of overlap
4. rump is buff, brown and streaky in Lesser and much paler with sometimes even a small white area in Common
5. Common generally has white wingbars, Lesser more buffy
6. in Common the undertail coverts are white and sometimes heavily streaked, in Lesser, they are less streaked and usually buffy
7. if you look in Svensson, you'll see that one or two measurements help - although there is overlap here too

Lastly, here are a few more pictures Mick P took of his birds which are useful for reference.


I managed a day's ringing near Bestwood on Wednesday and had a good day. The catch included 20 Lesser and 2 Common (Mealy) Redpolls. It was good to see the birds together in the hand to learn the differences between the two species.
Mick P

Common Redpoll

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Jim & I spent 3 hours at Granby today. We cleared the rides that have not seen a mist net for at least 18 months, installed the seed hoppers and baited up. This will be the 10th winter ringing season for the site.

The badgers had been very busy in our absence with huge piles of fresh earth in many places and one adjacent field is now full of young willow saplings destined for power stations. It will be interesting to see if this affects the catch in any way. Some rather poor phone-pics of our progress below...

Holme Pierrepont, 24-10-10

The good thing about visiting Holme Pierrepont in October is that your expectations are pretty low, so you don't have to catch much to be satisfied. In the end we were more than satisfied after Sunday's session, in glorious crisp Autumn sunshine throughout.

The day began with all sorts of things calling as we put the nets up. Water Rails were squealing, Lesser Redpolls and Bramblings were overhead along with good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares, two or three Cetti's Warblers were singing and a Little Egret drifted over. Before we'd finished, we'd already caught 3 Redwings and a Song Thrush. One of the Redwings was an adult and below are pictures of its more rounded tail and less well marked wing with rounded and difuse pale edges to the tertials and greater coverts in contrast to the the young birds' thorns and more crisp markings.

Then the second round was a bit of a surprise as 2 of the nets caught 16 birds. Mainly Reed Buntings and a few tits, but also our second Cetti's of the year, and only our third ever. Sadly this week's wasn't another foreign control, but it is so good to see that this species is back and having another go at colonising after last year's birds were seemingly wiped out by the cold weather.

We then started playing with lures and caught a few Goldcrests. Here's a picture of a male's crown feathers with the orange showing through the yellow.

We also caught a young Blue Tit with 4 old greater coverts, which is more than most.

After a while we switched the tape to Lesser Redpoll and despite the fact that my batteries were on their last legs, we managed to attract a handful.

Again we caught an adult male which was good to compare with the younger birds. The most obvious difference was the pink all over its breast and rump, but the most reliable feature seems to be the much rounder tail than the young birds.


We finished up on 43 birds processed and decided to leave the poles and guys for perhaps one more last session! Other birds seen included Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing and Skylark, but perhaps best were two high-flying flocks of Pink-footed Geese, both of about 140 birds. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

East Norfolk Ringing Course

Last weekend I went on a dry run ringing course organised by Jez Blackburn near Great Yarmouth. The idea being to try out the site and accommodation to see how it would work in practical terms if a formal ringing course were held there.

Well, it worked out great in practice. Unusually for the east coast it's sheltered from the east and the main ringing site is wet woodland & scrub. Therefore, ringing's possible most days and there's the beach to whoosh net on. We had mixed weather, but still managed 5/600 birds over the four mornings. As well as the residents, we caught migrant thrushes and finches. Highlight birds were 'northern' Bullfinch, Yellow-browed Warbler, Purple Sandpiper, Woodcock & Snow Bunting. However, my personal highlight was ringing this stonking adult male Common (or 'Mealy') Redpoll. The digs and craic were also good.

The upcoming Ringers' Bulletin should have dates for the first official course in 2011.
Common Redpoll (left) and Lesser Redpoll (right) - both adult males, but the latter caught at Holme Pierrepont and photographed in much stronger light. However, the difference in overall plumage tone is still fairly obvious. Note also the longer primary projection and whiter wingbars of Common.

Ringing at the Wash

This weekend I went to Norfolk to ring with the Wash Wader Ringing Group for the second time. My first visit in August was amazing. I was there for a long weekend and experienced cannon-netting on Heacham and Snettisham beaches and mist-netting in the dark on Terrington Marsh. We ended up with 800 birds that weekend and I personally had the opportunity to ring 11 new species: Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Knot, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel and Curlew Sandpiper. Additional species ringed by others were Greenshank, Grey Plover, Spotted Redshank and Oystercatcher.

This weekend we set the cannon nets on Snettisham Beach on Friday night for a Saturday morning catch. The weather on Saturday morning was appalling and unfortunately the tide didn’t come as high up the beach as we expected. The birds were there in front of the nets but just too far away to make a catch…attempt one aborted!

We then went back later that day and re-set the nets right at the bottom of the beach for the afternoon high tide. Nets set, we hid at base camp for the tide to be right. The tide came in and so did the birds…right on top of the nets! I guess we camouflaged them too well! The wind was so strong that even shaking the jigglers with force did nothing to move them out of the safety zone…attempt two aborted! So, after a supper of soup and bread on the beach, we re-set the nets for our third and final attempt on Sunday. Two sets of two nets, two four yards higher up the beach than the other two in case the tides misbehaved again.

Sunday morning and we are huddled at base camp watching the beautiful sunrise and I am keeping my fingers crossed for a birthday catch. 2000 oystercatchers had been and gone at 5.30am but apparently there were a few other waders out there in the gloom. But…the tide was higher than expected, the wind was causing problems with the waves on the beach and one set of nets was about to be drowned. Not looking good for attempt three. The decision was taken to wait for the retreating tide, as the waves coming up the beach with the high tide could endanger birds in the net if we’d risked a catch, so we all settled back down in the cold but glorious morning light to wait.

As the tide turned it still wasn’t looking good and then, just as we were accepting the fact that we were going to have a bird free weekend, the words “arm the box” came over the radio. Cautious excitement began to creep in; everyone came alive and tensed their cold muscles ready to run. “Three, two, one, fire”…BANG and run…and what a catch! 198 birds in total including 3 bar-tailed godwits, about a dozen turnstone, loads of dunlin, sanderling and knot and….39 grey plover!!! The largest winter grey plover catch for at least 10 years. Each plover and barwit was colour ringed and flagged for studies that the group is doing.

It turned out to be a fantastic final day with a Grey Plover as a birthday present, a flock of Twite on the beach, a small flock of Waxwings overhead along with hundreds and hundreds of thrushes moving through and Pink-footed Geese flying over.

The Wash Wader Ringing Group is full of wonderful people who are only too willing to share their knowledge and expertise to help ringers of all levels to have a brilliant ringing experience. I highly recommend it!

The team ringing Barwits
 A ringed and flagged Grey Plover
 The Grey Plover's diagnostic black axillaries.
 Keeping cages.
 My first Grey Plover

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Back to Brack

I made the first winter visit to the Brack bait station today, with Louise & Andrew. We were really just aiming to get the net sites sorted etc, but rather surprisingly managed 45 birds; including 30 in the second net round. This included 39 new (all juvs) and six retraps (all adults). Main species were Great Tit (8) and Chaffinch (18) and we also caught two new species for the site - two Coal Tits and a single male Brambling.

Next visit will most likely be next weekend.


Monday, 18 October 2010

Attenborough Migration Day

The morning started with the first frost of the winter but by the time we arrived at the reserve, 1030 for an 1100 start, the sun was out and the peninsular at the back of the visitor centre was a good sun trap. The breeze picked up slowly as the hours passed, not billowing the nets too much but causing leaves by the dozen to fall into them. This did not seem to deter the birds and I can't remember a single net round without a catch. This pleased the visitors as no one went without seeing some birds. Visitor numbers were good throughout the day, sometimes we had double figures at a time watching. The total catch for the day ended at 35, of which 25 were Tree Sparrows. Many of these were still in primary moult so it gave some good practice doing moult scores.

As usual the staff at the centre looked after us well, keeping us fed and watered. A surprise was a donation of £50 from the centre to the group as a thank you for supporting their events. This was gratefully received and is now in the hands of our treasurer.

Coal Tits

Over the last couple of days I have caught 5 Coal Tits - 2 at Bulwell and 3 in my garden at Hucknall. Not that I`m complaining as they are stunning little birds.

As with many species a moult limit in the greater coverts can be used as ageing criteria, but sometimes this can be difficult to detect. However, this bird had obligingly moulted its greater coverts out of sequence making the difference between the new and the old feathers easy to detect. The 2 older greater coverts have a duller background colour, are longer, narrower, have browner edges and smaller less prominent white tips to the outer webs.
Mick P

Saturday, 16 October 2010

2009 Ringing Report

Here is the group's report for 2009. Despite last year's aspirations, this report appears, once again, 10 months after the year it summarises! Will try harder next year... Just click on the pages for a larger view.