Saturday, 18 February 2017

The wrong kind of nice.

It was a nice day today but the wrong kind of nice for me. Nice days in February should be crisp and cold not pleasantly mild and touching on being warm. Our seasons have become messed up, to say the least, with winter increasingly being a thing of the past, spring is often cold and wet, summer is increasingly an unsettled none event while autumn is becoming more like summer than summer.

Temperatures are forecast to be well above average for the next few days and while that may help me save money on my heating bill it won't do our wildlife any favours. It is likely to be warm enough to bring some butterflies, moths and bats out of hibernation prematurely and cause them to waste valuable energy. Basically some of our wildlife will get off to a false start and things will get out of sync.

Anyway I went for a walk with the dog this afternoon and as soon as I got into the park I noticed that a pair of Great Crested Grebes were back on one of the lakes, and they were displaying. Sods law I hadn't got a camera with me so I nipped back home and picked one up. I thought I was going to be treated to the full courtship display and weed dance but while there was some weed carrying it was a case of head waving rather than dancing.







The grebes moved out of range after a while so I continued my walk and checked out a nearby field of winter cereals for roosting Common Snipe. The winter cereal crop is starting to put on a bit of a growth spurt but I was still able to pick out 7 Snipe and there could have been a few more.









I first noticed snipe roosting in this field last November (post here) and they have used it all winter or what has counted for winter so far. I have never heard of Common Snipe using a field of winter cereal as a regular roost site before and as far as I am aware this is the first record of such behaviour. Snipe duly recorded and photographed I headed for home and was treated to another performance by the Great Crested Grebes as I passed through the park.











Yes, it was nice afternoon weather wise but the wrong kind of nice for mid-February. Still it was great to see the grebes displaying and that the snipe are still roosting in the cereal field.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Garden Goldcrest and other visitors

It is not uncommon to hear or see a Goldcrest in or near the garden but it is relatively unusual to see one taking advantage of any of the feeders. A couple of days a ago I noticed a female Goldcrest gleaning food items from the branches below some of the feeders and the following day it was also pecking fragments of fat from the wire mesh of the fat block holder. This morning I noticed it was coming to the fat block and feeding on it fairly regularly so I decided to try and get a few photos.


Goldcrest 12/02/2016


Caught in the act.



In previous years I have occasionally seen the odd one taking food particles that had fallen onto twigs below some of the feeders, also taking small fragments from the base of a sunflower heart feeder and occasionally pecking at the fat blocks but it doesn't happen every winter.



The blunt and rounded tail shape shows this bird is an adult. There doesn't appear to be any orange in the crown so we can be reasonably sure it is a female. Males can keep their orange crown feathers concealed under yellow feathers but you usually get a glimpse of it every now and again, especially if they get a bit agitated. 



It must have found a really good bit up there.
 I make my own fat blocks which contain a very high proportion of dried mealworms and birds certainly seem to know if a fat block is giving them a good nutritional return for their effort. In the past I have experimented when feeding adult Starlings in the early part of the breeding season and the blocks with the higher proportion of mealworms were preferred and attracted more birds despite the fat blocks with the lower mealworm content being almost identical in appearance. It may be trial and error at first but whatever the mechanism they certainly seemed to know which had the better nutritional content.

The Goldcrest came to the fat block about every 20 minutes and only stayed for about a minute on each visit so I ended up taking quite a few photos of some of the other visitors. And, as I have commented on before, there wasn't a single House Sparrow amongst them.



Adult male Starling.
This male is just about in full breeding condition now that its bill has completed the change from being black to the full breeding colours of blue and yellow. The fine and limited spotting to the long throat feathers and flanks shows this bird is an adult (2CY+). 


Male Pied Wagtail.
Two Pied Wagtails regularly come to feed on scraps below the feeders, this male and a very grey backed female that looks similar to some White Wagtails 


Blue Tit
Tits had a fairly poor breeding season last year and very few have been coming to the feeders this winter


Coal Tit
Like Blue and Great Tits there have been fewer Coal Tits coming to the feeders this winter.


This adult female Chaffinch has badly encrusted legs and feet (either mange or avian papillomavirus) and you can just see part of the left foot. It only uses one leg and holds the other up under the feathers but in all other respects it seems to be quite healthy.


This first-year female has escaped infection, so far at least.
Adult male Blackbird
There have been a lot of Blackbirds around this winter with more visiting the garden than I have ever seen before. It is not uncommon for there to be 10 in the garden at one time and many more must visit over the course of a day.


Female Blackbird


There seemed to be a few more Goldfinches around today with up to 25 in the garden at any one time.


Adult male Siskin and what a stunner.

There was plenty of argy-bargy at the feeders.
A nice selection of birds that brightened up what was a rather grey, cold and windy day.




  

Friday, 10 February 2017

Siskins numbers increase, slowly

There hasn't been a great deal to report recently hence the lack of posts. The Collared Doves completed their nest and one of the adults was sitting when I checked it yesterday. While it is good to be able to report that this nesting attempt has got to the egg stage it hardly makes for a post on its own.

Decent numbers of birds are coming to the feeders in the garden although there has been a decrease in Goldfinches compared with the numbers seen in December and January. Siskins, on the other hand, are starting to increase with 5 or so visiting the garden each day now. Siskins are an irruptive species and I get very few in the garden in some years and loads in others, with last year being a particularly good year. This year looks like being a relatively poor year but there is plenty of time yet as the main period runs from now until mid-April.


Adult male Siskin 10/02/2017
I received a recovery report for one of last year's Siskins the other day which showed it had been controlled by Teifi Ringing Group in Carmarthenshire, South Wales at the end of January. This Siskin was ringed in the garden on 12th April last year and there is a chance it will turn up in the garden at a similar time this year as it works its way back north. Although they are a variable migrant they are known to return to the same sites in subsequent winters and when on passage and I have already retrapped a couple of birds that were ringed in the garden last year.

S144873               Siskin
Ringed                  12/04/2016  near Orrell, Greater Manchester
Caught by ringer   30/01/2017  Ffynnon, Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire
Movement 201 km SSW, duration 293 days





The other significant news from the garden is the near total absence of House Sparrows this winter. I am lucky if I see one a week these days and sometimes the gap has been longer. I have probably seen Brambling in the garden more often this winter which is something I couldn't have imagined saying just a few years ago.


Female Brambling 10/02/2017.
A rare visitor to the garden but seen more frequently than House Sparrow this winter!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Nest building Collared Doves

It may have been a bit chilly today and is forecast to be colder tomorrow but it has been another relatively mild winter so far.  Many birds are starting to show territorial activity now that the days are getting longer and species like Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Starling and Great Tit have been singing, on and off, for a week or two now. 

Whilst watching the birds in the garden this morning I noticed a Collared Dove flying into some ivy about 6 metres up a tree and I suspected it had joined another that was already there. The ivy clad tree is in the park just across the road from the front garden and I had seen a Collared Dove visit the same location a few days ago, so I began to think it was a pair that could be nest building or at least prospecting.

I watched for a while and saw that one bird kept flying down to the ground and then going back up to the same location in the tree, and although it was a bit too far away for me to be sure I thought it had carried some nest material on at least one occasion. I decided to check it out so I grabbed my camera and went for a closer look.

On entering the park I could see what I presumed to be the male Collared Dove searching for fine twigs along the side of the path. There were loads of fine birch and alder twigs on the ground for it to choose from but it was fussier than I expected. It would pick up a twig and then discard it and then go on to another. This process was repeated several times before it found one it deemed to be suitable which it then took up to its partner at the nest site in the ivy.














The other Collared Dove, presumably the female, stayed at the nest site and arranged the twigs that were brought by its partner. Given that a Collared Dove nest is usually a fairly flimsy platform of twigs there was a lot of careful placement, turning around and treading of the twigs into place. Although the nest is well concealed on a branch in the ivy it appeared to be quite substantial by Collared Dove standards and probably not far off completion.




Collared Doves have been recorded nesting throughout the year where food is abundant, although breeding activity is generally much reduced in winter. Day length probably has a part to play in reducing winter breeding activity in the UK rather than a shortage of food as there is likely to be a greater and more reliable supply of food from garden feeding through the winter than at other times of year.

While it may not be unheard of to find a pair of Collared Doves nest building in late January it is still relatively uncommon in this area and a welcome sign of spring.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Garden ringing and a big bill.

I haven't posted anything about my ringing activities so far this year but that doesn't mean I have been sitting on my hands. Much of my effort has been focused on the garden and Starlings in particular. The fat cakes have been attracting far more Starlings than I usually get in winter (despite the generally mild conditions) which has allowed me to get a lot of resightings of birds that were colour-ringed as part of my RAS project and also ring a good number of new birds. Yesterday was no exception with 9 colour-ringed Starlings recorded and another 4 new birds ringed.

D61 is a frequent visitor to the fat cakes at the moment and was ringed as a juvenile last summer.
Most Starlings can now be sexed from their bill colour with males having a blue base to their bill and females having a pink pink base to an otherwise similarly yellow bill. Some birds, all probably 2cy+, were showing these breeding season colours before the end of December but the rest are catching up now. There are other differences between the sexes with the colour of the eye being another useful feature and one that works for most individuals throughout the year. Males generally have an evenly coloured brown iris whilst females usually show a pale orbital ring within the brown iris.

Male Starling 21/01/2017

Female Starling 21/01/2017
Whilst watching the Starlings yesterday I noticed one with a deformed bill that I hadn't seen before. The lower mandible was much longer than normal while the upper mandible was quite a bit shorter than usual. It had a unique way of feeding on the fat cakes and slid the lower mandible along the side of the fat cake which allowed it to nip bits off when the upper mandible made contact with the fat cake.

Luckily it went into the bird table trap and I was able to catch it. The upper mandible looked like it had suffered some sort of damage which had allowed the lower mandible to over-grow. Normally the upper mandible overlaps the lower at the tip and, along with normal wear from feeding, helps to prevent this sort of deformity.

Male Starling with deformed bill 21/01/2017.

Male Starling with deformed bill 21/01/2017.

Male Starling with deformed bill 21/01/2017. It was an adult (2cy+), in very good condition and had clearly learned to cope with its deformity. However, it may struggle if the lower mandible continues to grow and it is likely to have difficulty feeding young if it manages to find a mate and breed.
It's not just Starlings that I have been watching and ringing as the other feeders have been attracting large numbers of birds and Goldfinches in particular. There are 7 seed feeders around the garden and the birds are currently getting through over a kilo of sunflower hearts each day.  

The scene around one of the 7 sunflower heart feeders yesterday.

 Male Goldfinch 21/01/2017

Adult male Siskin 21/02/2017
This morning I took advantage of the calm and overcast conditions and a short session with the usual 6m net resulted in a catch of 33 birds (18 new birds and 15 retraps). This was made up as follows (retraps in brackets): Goldcrest 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1;  Long-tailed Tit 1 (4); Robin 1; Goldfinch 11 (9); Siskin 3 (1).