Sunday, 23 July 2017

Billinge: 22nd 2017 July

I had high high hopes for this session in the top willows by my optimism and early start wasn't rewarded. Equivalent sessions in previous years have produced good numbers of phylloscs and out of habitat migrants such as Sedge and Reed Warblers but that wasn't repeated today. The weather probably played a part as overnight rain probably put the dampers on any migration and the site was still shrouded in hill fog/low cloud when I arrived, although it soon lifted.

It turned out to be one of those days that was noteworthy for the birds that were absent or only present in low numbers and chief amongst those was Chiffchaff with only 1 recorded all morning, and that one only turned shortly before I packed up. There were fewer Blackcaps around than usual and although Willow Warblers crept into double figures a total in the high teens would have been nearer the norm. Once again, tits were few and far between and there was certainly no sign of any mixed tit/warbler flock formation. I didn't even hear any Long-tailed Tits nearby or in the distance. The only species that seemed to be present in higher numbers than usual was Wren with 5 ringed. I think Wrens should be renamed fidget spinners as this aptly describes their behaviour in a mist-net.

The final total of 32 new birds and 4 retraps wasn't bad but was lower than expected for late July. Totals for 22/07/17 (retraps in brackets) were: Great Tit 2; Willow Tit (1); Blue Tit 2; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 11 (1); Blackcap 3 (1); Treecreeper 1; Wren 5;  Robin 1; Bullfinch 3 (1); Goldfinch 2; Reed Bunting 1.

Adult Willow Warbler (all the photos below are of the same bird).
Three of the Willow Warblers were adults and two of them had almost completed their full moult.
Once the moult is completed, in probably just a few days for this individual, they start migrating back to Africa. They often start to put on fat just prior to the completion of the moult so they are ready to go with little or no delay.
Once the moult is completed Willow Warblers can only be aged by the colour of the underparts and shape and wear of the tail feathers. Adults have a white belly whereas juveniles are usually completely yellow or yellowish underneath.

Adult tail. Generally broader and less pointed and also showing less wear than the juvenile tail. The tail feathers are usually glossier too as they are newer than those of most juveniles which often look a tad browner.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Billinge: 17th & 18th July 2017

17th July
I am not getting any better at the early morning lark and only got to site at 7am. The weather was glorious and it was very warm from the off. I quickly set 3 nets in the top willows but there was distinct lack of warblers calling in the bushes which suggested there were fewer around compared to my last visit. On the other hand there had been a marked increase in the number of Goldfinches with at least 60 feeding on the knapweed in the vicinity of the net rides.

A total of 46 new birds were caught with all but one being juveniles. The single adult was a moulting female Willow Warbler. The ringing totals confirmed that there were fewer warblers around but this was offset by a good catch of Goldfinches. The biggest surprise was a near total absence of tits, not that I am complaining, with only 2 caught and hardly any others seen or heard.

Juvenile Goldfinch

One of the juvenile Goldfinches had white sub-terminal patches on the three outer tail feathers. These patches were once thought to have some age related significance and while the number of patches Goldfinches have varies between 1 and 3 the presence of 3 was considered to be something that was only found in some adults. Juveniles like the bird above clearly show that can't be the case and serve as a useful reminder. A more recent study suggested birds with 3 patches were always males and while males may have more and or bigger patches on average there is more overlap than that study found and I have caught females with 3. I am sure these tail patches have an important role as birds spread their tail and show them off when they do the clockwork like pivoting display but they are not the help we would like them to be when it comes to ageing and sexing Goldfinches in the hand.
Totals for 17/07/17 were: Goldcrest 1; Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 6; Willow Warbler 7; Blackcap 6; Wren 3;  Greenfinch 1; Goldfinch 20.

18th July
With thundery and then showery conditions forecast from mid-week I decided to fit in another visit and try the rides in the NE corner of the site. It was another very warm morning and the biting insects were really on form but it turned out to be very quiet on the bird front. The catching rate was really slow and I packed up at 10am, following 2 blank net rounds, and having only caught a total of 14 new birds in the earlier rounds.

Again there were hardly any tits around and warblers were also very thin on the ground for this part of the site. Tits are supposed to have had a reasonable breeding season but I haven't seen or heard any sizeable tit flocks as yet but that doesn't mean they are not out there, somewhere. It was just one of those mornings that produced a below par catch, as happens now again, and it will be a while before we really know what sort of breeding season it has been overall.

One of the Dunnocks was a recently fledged juvenile.

The flight feathers were not fully grown but it could fly quite well and was caught in the top panel of a mist net.

It will still be dependant on its parents for food so it was released very close to where it was caught.
Overhead there was no movement to speak of but a single Yellow Wagtail, a scarce bird in this area these days, went south as did a Siskin.

Ringing totals for 18/07/17 were: Goldcrest 3; Blue Tit 1; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 1; Blackcap 1; Wren 2;  Dunnock 2; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

12th July 2017 - A bunch of Blackcaps

I only managed a 06:30 start at in the top willows at Billinge but I don't think I missed much as a result, at least I hope not. I set three 18m nets under clear blue skies and with only a light breeze blowing from the NE. The catching rate was better than expected for this early in the month and suggests it has been a fairly productive breeding season, especially when compared with the last couple of years. I packed up at 11:00 as the sun was shining on all the nets by then, making them much more visible, and before it got too hot.

The final total of 44 new birds and 2 retraps was mainly comprised of juveniles and included 32 warblers, 17 of which were Blackcaps. The two retraps were an adult male Blackcap that was originally ringed as a juvenile in July 2015 and a juvenile Blackcap that was ringed just over a week ago. The Blackcaps were mainly feeding on raspberries that grow wild near one of the net rides and most of them were caught in that particular net. This raspberry patch usually attracts and holds a good number of locally bred juveniles in July although 17 is more than I usually catch in one session.

Juvenile Blackcap

Juvenile Willow Tit.
Late June and July is the peak period for juvenile dispersal in this species and this is the 3rd to be ringed at the site in the last week.

Juvenile Treecreeper
July is also a time when the young of woodland species disperse and can be encountered well away from their usual habitat. 
There was some interest overhead with the highlight being a Crossbill that called loudly as it flew SW. A Siskin was also heard but not seen and a few Swallows seemed to be heading south. I wasn't in the best place to observe the Swallow movement but small groups appeared to motoring south from time to time; they certainly weren't the feeding flights of the local breeders.

Ringing totals for 12/07/17 (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 2; Willow Tit 1; Goldcrest 1; Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 10; Blackcap 15 (2); Treecreeper 1; Wren 1; Goldfinch 6.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bilinge 9th July 2017 - more Swallows

I had planned an early morning ringing session in the top willows but I just couldn't motivate myself when the alarm went off, despite the weather conditions being near perfect. I decided some extra sleep was the order of the day; a decision that was made much easier because I knew I had the option of going up in the evening instead. I suppose I could, and perhaps should, have done both but I will save that kind of effort for later in the season.

I went to site at 7pm and quickly set 2 nets in the willows. I could hear a few warblers calling in the bushes as I was setting up but one thing that was absent was any sizeable tit flocks, not that I am complaining, although I did hear some Long-tailed Tits in the distance later on. There were quite few Swallows hawking insects overhead so I was hopeful that some would come into roost again and thankfully they did.

Part of the Swallow catch. I don't know why this site usually gets an early Swallow roost but it does, although numbers and duration of occupancy of the roost have varied from year to year. However, its future may be limited by the growth of the trees as the birds seem to prefer to roost in willows that average about 1.5 to 2 metres tall and some are more than twice that height now.

Juvenile Swallow

Adult male Swallow showing a fine pair of tail streamers.
The total of 41 new birds and 1 retrap was a good result with the majority of the catch being made up of Swallows and warblers. The individual totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 1; Willow Tit 1; Swallow 23; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 3 (1); Blackcap 5; Blackbird 1; Goldfinch 2, Reed Bunting 1.

Observations of note were a Noctule Bat, surprisingly the first I have seen over the site, and as I was leaving I could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the territory in NE corner.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Billinge: 4th & 7th July 2017

4th July
This was a dual purpose evening visit to do a bit of ringing and work on clearing some of the summer's growth from one of the net rides in the top willows. I didn't get to site as early as I had originally planned so I only put up one 18m net rather than two as intended but that didn't matter as there was plenty of pruning to do.

The single net produced a trickle of birds which left me enough time to get another net ride cleared and ready for the rest of the autumn. As sunset approached I started to think about packing up but then some Swallows appeared so I stayed until they came into roost and I ended up catching 25 of them. The final ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 1; Swallow 25; Chiffchaff 2 (1); Willow Warbler 4 (2); Blackcap 2; Goldfinch 1. Total 35 new birds and 3 retraps.

7th July
I only got up after the 3rd alarm and some snoozing so not the early start that I had intended. I set 3 nets in the NE corner of the site and was set up by 06:40. Two Grasshopper Warblers were reeling nearby with one being in the same area as a bird recorded in early May but the other was singing in a less expected location and was reeling in the adjacent field of barley.

The catching rate was slow to start with but improved as the morning went on, although it didn't get busy. Highlights were 2 juvenile and an adult Grasshopper Warbler with the adult being a retrap male that was originally ringed on 2nd May this year. This strongly suggest they have bred successfully and constitutes the first breeding record for the site, although a bird held a territory last year and may have bred. The rest of the catch was fairly typical for this part of the site at this time of year and included the first juvenile Goldcrests and a juvenile Willow Tit.

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler,

The two juvenile Grasshopper Warblers showed some of the variation in colour this species can display with one having mainly white underparts and the other having buff coloured underparts.

Juvenile Goldcrests always look scruffy as they go through their post-juvenile moult

This bird was just starting to show orange feathers (encased in sheath) growing in the crown which meant it could be sexed as a male. 

Juvenile Willow Tit.
Another feature of the site at this time of year are frequent encounters horse-flies and clegs and I donated far too much blood to their kind during the session. Luckily I haven't had any adverse reactions but these insects will continue to be a pain in the neck or other parts of the body during visits over the next few weeks.

There was a little bit of movement overhead with 1 Siskin heading south and 3 singles heading north and a Grey Wagtail heading south was particularly early for that species to be on the move.

Ringing totals for the 7th were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 4; Coal Tit 1; Willow Tit 1; Chiffchaff 7; Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 1; Grashopper Warbler 2 (1); Wren 1; Robin 1; Bullfinch (1). Total 27 new birds and 2 retraps.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Long time no blogging

Where did June go; it doesn't seem like the best part of a month has gone by since my last post but it has. I've not done much ringing this June compared to previous years but I haven't been idle either, far from it. I have had quite a lot of commitments over the last few weeks and I also decided to get stuck into some jobs around the house and garden and get them out of the way before autumn migration really gets going later this month. Having said that I still managed to ring 162 birds in June but 122 of those were Starlings in the garden.

It is fair to say this has been my best year for Starlings by some margin with 140 adults and 383 juveniles ringed in the garden up to the end of June. In addition there have been 436 resightings/recaptures involving 141 different individuals. Most of these resightings were of birds that were ringed or colour-ringed in previous years with the oldest individuals having been ringed as adults in 2011. The current longevity record for a Starling is 17 years, 7 months and 25 days so my project will have to run for a long time yet for me to see anything approaching that record, although reaching 6 or 7 years is still a very good age for a Starling.

I have been up to Billinge a few times recently to maintain the net rides in preparation for the autumn and I did put up a couple of nets on the evening of 26th June in two of the newly cleared rides. This short session produced 26 new birds and 1 retrap as follows - Willow Warbler 11, Chiffchaff 5 (1), Linnet 4, Great Tit 1, Blue Tit 1, Swallow 4. The 4 Swallows were interesting as they were all adult males that came in to roost in the willows. This site has held an early roost since I first started monitoring there in 2014 and a high proportion of adults has usually been a feature of the early catches.

That pretty much sums up how June went for me but now we are in July and autumn migration is starting to get underway there should be a lot more to blog about. With a bit of luck you should start to see a return to more regular updates from now on.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Siskin Movements: Spring 2017

I haven't posted details of any recoveries for a while so I thought it was time to rectify that. I have received quite a few recovery reports for Siskins over the past few months so it made sense to start with that species. Details of 3 of the movements were posted earlier in the spring but as others started to come in I decided to wait and show them all together rather than post details when they were received. All of the movements involve birds that were ringed or controlled in my garden near Orrell, Greater Manchester (purple & white circle on map). 

It is interesting that there are no movements to or from SE England as large numbers of Siskins usually winter in that area. The two recoveries well south of my garden are both in Wales and this suggest that many of the bird that visit my garden winter there and perhaps further south in SW England.

D874496      first year female   Siskin
Ringed         18/03/2014   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    14/02/2017   Witton-le Wear NR, Durham. 143 km NNE, duration 1064 days.

S192064       first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          11/04/2016   Peebles, Scottish Borders.
Controlled     07/03/2017   near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 293 km S, duration 330 days

S144873       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          12/04/2016   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     30/01/2017   Ffynnon Gro, Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire. 201 km S, duration 293 days.

S411915       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          24/02/2017    Sychdyn, Mold, Flintshire.
Controlled     24/03/2017    near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 47 km NE, duration 28 days.

S264860      first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         03/03/2017      Broken Cross, Nr Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Controlled    24/03/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 46 km NW, duration: 21 days.

S785508     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         19/02/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017      Dalston, Carlisle, Cumbria. 148 km N, duration: 42 days.

S144876      adult female       Siskin
Ringed         12/04/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017       Cnoc, Argyll and Bute.  324 km NNW, duration: 355 days.

S144643     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          07/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     21/02/2017       Townhill, Dunfermline, Fife. 289 km N, duration: 351 days.

S144511    adult male            Siskin
Ringed         18/02/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    18/04/2017       Millhousebridge, Dumfries and Galloway. 188 km NNW, duration: 425 days.

S144657    first-year male      Siskin
Ringed         08/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Found          26/03/2017       Pont-rhyd-y-groes, Ceredigion. 152 km SSW, duration 414 days. Dying, found sick,

S552459     adult female        Siskin
Ringed          22/01/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     23/03/2017      Glebe Farm, Salsburgh, North Lanarkshire. 268 km, duration: 60 days.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Starling RAS round-up

Sorry for doing another post about my Starling RAS project but it is virtually all I do in May on the birding front. It has been particularly busy this year with 193 different adult Starlings coming to the feeders in the garden between 21st April and 24th May. This is roughly double the number of adults recorded over the same period in the previous 2 years. This big increase has probably been caused by the dry spring which will have made it a lot more difficult for the adults to find enough soil invertebrates to feed to their young and made them more reliant on garden handouts.

A large proportion (118) had been ringed prior to the start of this year's RAS period with 99 having been ringed during the previous two breeding seasons or earlier. Looking at these known age adults 66% were at least 2 years old and 34% were ringed last year, as juveniles, so were breeding for the first time. This is a good sample size and is probably representative of the age structure of the population in this area. As the majority of adult Starlings are faithful to their breeding sites the age structure of the population is largely a function of the adult survival rate so the survival rate for adults in the population will be at least 66%. The actual survival rate is likely to be slightly higher as two adults, both at least 2 years old, have been recorded since the RAS period ended and a few others could have been missed or moved territory outside of the catchment area for my garden. The actual adult survival rate for my population is probably closer to 70%. This fits well with some other studies and shows the RAS project is producing good data for monitoring the annual survival rates of adults in this area.

It is harder to say how the breeding season has gone for Starlings for various reasons; not least because juveniles become very mobile and disperse over a wide area shortly after a fledging. I have ringed 266 juveniles this May compared to 215 in May last year and that is despite broods fledging around a week later this year. However, there is no indication there will be a doubling of the number of juveniles coming to the garden this year, as seen with adults, so productivity may actually be lower than last year as might be expected in a very dry spring when natural food is much harder to come by. The recent rain hasn't improved soil moisture levels all that much so I would also expect juvenile mortality to be higher than it would otherwise be if the spring rainfall had been nearer to average levels.

P45, just one the 266 juveniles ringed this May
My interest in Starlings doesn't end when my RAS period finishes and I will continue to ring and record sightings of colour-ringed birds over the course of the summer. Yesterday I caught a new adult that had already started to moult and is the earliest moulting adult I have ever recorded. It shouldn't really be a surprise that adults are starting to moult earlier as they moult soon after they have finished breeding and the breeding season is averaging earlier now than it used to. There is a chance it could be a failed or non breeder but even if that is the case it is still relatively early for it to be in moult and it is yet another a tiny piece of evidence that birds are responding to changes in our seasons and climate. If nothing else it is a reminder that it is never too early to start checking for moult these days.

Moulting adult Starling photographed 01/06/2017. Both wings were symmetrical.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Awash with Starlings

I am surprised I have not had complaints from neighbours about the number of Starlings that are coming to the feeders as they have been making a right din and a fair amount of mess too. The begging and contact calls of many dozens of juveniles in and around the garden can be loud enough to wake all but the heaviest of sleepers and starts not long after sunrise, which is just after 5am at the moment. As for the mess it is not that bad unless your a stickler for a clean car and clean windows. On the plus side one of my neighbours certainly got great value for money out of his window cleaners yesterday.

Just a few of the adult and juvenile Starlings that were feeding in the garden yesterday morning.
To give you an update on the number of birds involved 163 different adults have been recorded in the garden since 21st April with that number being made up of 94 birds that were colour-ringed during or prior to the 2016 breeding season and the remaining 69 being ringed over the winter or during this breeding season. On top of that there are still a few unringed adults coming to the feeders so the total number of adults using the garden could be around the 180 mark. Judging by the re-sightings of colour-ringed birds many are visiting the garden on a regular or frequent basis and a total of 78 different colour-ringed adults were recorded in the garden on 15th May alone and I am sure I didn't manage to record them all, but it does give and indication of how busy the garden is.

Most if not all of the adult Starlings have fledged young now and a typical brood size seems to be at least 4, so given there are 80+ pairs using the garden they could be feeding over 320 juveniles and it certainly sounds like they are at times. The first juveniles were seen in the garden on the on the 11th but I didn't ring any until the 14th when 7 were caught. Since then the number of juveniles has rocketed, as is to be expected with a species that has a highly synchronised breeding season, and the number ringed over the last 5 days now stands at 99. As productivity appears to be as good as it was last year I am likely to ring another 200 juveniles over the next few weeks but only time and a lot of effort will tell.

The bird bath gets well used at this time of year and needs filling several times a day.

This adult seemed to want the bird bath to itself.

Young Starlings soon return to feeding in the trap after being ringed and as I colour-ring them all there is no need to trap them again.

This one was in a berberis right in front of a window and was picking midges off the leaves. This and all the photos above were taken through double glazing so aren't as crisp as I would like them to be.
Starlings will continue to take up most of my time until my RAS period ends on 24th May and then I will have a bit more time to get out and about.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Starling RAS update

The first juvenile Starling of the spring was seen in the garden today. This is a week later than last year and 11 days earlier than in 2015. Juveniles have usually been out of the nest a few days before they appear in the garden but the first date they are seen still gives an indication of variation in timing of the breeding season between years. Quite a few juveniles have fledged judging by the begging calls coming from the trees and roof tops round about so an increasing number will be following their parents into the garden in the coming days.

The first juvenile Starling in the garden was probably having its first bath when I noticed it.

I have ringed or recorded an additional 23 adult Starlings in the last 3 days including 10 that were ringed in previous years. This brings the total number of adults recorded since 21st April to 112 with 75 being birds that were ringed in previous years. I am on track for recording more adults this RAS season than in the previous 2 years and this may in part be due to the dry weather having a limiting effect on the availability of soil invertebrates. Adult Starlings are probably turning to garden handouts, like my fat cakes, more than they would if there had been more rain and soil invertebrates were easier to get at.

Not the sharpest of photos as it was taken through double glazing and not the cleanest either, but it does show just how stunningly colourful adult Starlings are.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Starling RAS half time scores

This year's Starling RAS has just passed the half way mark and 89 different adults have been recorded in the garden in the first 18 days. My RAS period is relatively short and runs from 21st April to 24th May but it still requires a plenty of commitment as I usually clock up at least 100 hours of effort over that period. Now if you don't know what a RAS project is you can find out more here and here but in simple terms it allows adult survival rates to be calculated from retrap or resighting data gathered over a number of years from a ringed population of breeding birds.

As I have been running a RAS project for a few years now the majority of Starlings that breed within foraging range of the garden are already ringed with both a BTO ring and a numbered colour ring so most of the effort involves recording colour-ringed birds when they come to feed. My Starlings are pretty well trained and come to a supply of home made fat cakes in a cage on a bird table and hung in a tree near a window. This means I get to do most of the observations from the comfort of an armchair and with a plentiful supply of coffee at hand. Any unringed birds are easily caught for ringing if they enter the cage to feed as the door on the cage is closed via a string that comes in through a window.

Ringed birds like this one (E11) happily feed in the cage as the door is only closed if an unringed bird enters. E11 was originally ringed as a juvenile last year. The fat cakes I make are an irresistible mix of beef dripping, dried mealworms and finely chopped peanuts.
Of the 89 adults recorded so far 65 were ringed in previous breeding seasons with 47 being at least 2 years old and the remaining 18 being ringed as juveniles last year. If those birds are representative of the local population as a whole it means 72.3% are experienced breeders and just 27.7% are breeding for the first time. There is still plenty of time for other colour-ringed birds to be recorded so it will be interesting to see what these figures look like at the end of the RAS period.

D25 has been resighted numerous times this season and was originally ringed as a breeding adult in 2016.
The primary aim of a RAS project is to establish the survival rates of adults but it has to run for at least 5 years before the data gets processed by the BTO and this is only my 3rd year of intensive study. However, the high proportion of colour-ringed birds recorded so far suggests it will produce some useful results in due course.

They really are a smart looking bird. In addition to providing fat cakes I occasionally throw bread, suet pellets and a few dried mealworms on the lawn.

I happened to photograph this Starling having a quick shake.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Cropper and Gropper

Just when I thought I would have more time to post on the blog my 96 year old mother has a fall while stepping up a kerb and comes an almighty cropper, as she would say. Old ladies tend not to bounce very well, and my mother was no exception, but at least she didn't break anything. She was very lucky to get away with a few grazes and some bruising but needs more help and support while she recovers and gets her mobility back. Suffice to say I have not had much time for ringing or posting on the blog and what spare time has been available has been devoted to recording colour-ringed Starlings in the garden for my RAS project.

Anyway I did manage to fit in a short ringing session at Billinge yesterday morning and while it only produced 3 birds it was good to be out. The highlight was a singing Grasshopper Warbler which was my first of the year. It was caught and ringed and resumed singing almost immediately on release. It may have been a passage migrant that was holding a temporary territory but there is just enough suitable habitat for the species to breed should it stay and attract a mate. It is certainly something I will be keeping an eye on when time allows.

Grasshopper Warbler 02/05/2017

Grasshopper Warbler 02/05/2017
The only other birds caught were 2 Willow Warblers, both females. One was a new bird but the other was a retrap that was originally ringed as a first-year bird in August 2015 and was also retrapped as a breeding adult in 2016. Whilst male Willow Warblers have been back on territory for a while now females are still arriving and the new bird was relatively light and showed no signs of being in breeding condition. The retrap was probably a recent arrival too as it was only in the very early stages of developing a brood patch. The only visible migration of note was a single fly-over Tree Pipit which was much less than expected but welcome nevertheless.

As things stand I am unlikely to be able to get out as much as I would like in the near future but a few recoveries have been coming in and there is also the Starling RAS to report on so I will have something to blog about fairly soon or at least when other commitments allow. As the saying goes, if it is not one thing, it's your mother.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Billinge: 9th to 23rd April 2017

Apologies for the lack of updates recently but other things have just got in the way. I put in quite a bit of effort at Billinge in the two weeks following my last post but the results were mixed to say the least. A couple of ringing sessions were reasonably productive while others saw only a handful of birds caught or drew a blank. The cumulative totals for the period were 59 new birds, 15 retraps and 4 controls, although 2 of the controls are likely to have been ringed at sites nearby.

Lesser Redpolls were the most numerous species with 37 new birds and 1 control being caught. The control Lesser Redpoll had been ringed at Clow Bridge in Lancashire last autumn, 41 km to the NE of Billinge. Willow Warbler was next in terms of numbers with 9 new birds and 6 retraps captured. It has been a good spring for Willow Warblers with 23 (15 new birds and 8 retraps from previous years) caught so far this month. Of these 21 were males and only 2 were females with the first male being caught on the 1st and the first female just over 3 weeks later, on the 23rd.

Other captures and sightings of note were as follows:

14th - 2 Siskins were ringed including a female with a wrinkled brood patch which indicates she had already made an early breeding attempt somewhere. I am not aware of any breeding sites near Billinge which makes this record all the more interesting. Is it a failed breeder on the move or could it be breeding nearby?

17th - A short, rain restricted ringing session didn't produce single bird but a late Fieldfare was seen flying east.

19th - A very quiet ringing session produced just 2 Lesser Redpolls but this was offset by a Woodlark seen flying north first thing followed by a couple of Tree Pipits later in the morning. Woodlark is a county rarity and this record, assuming it is accepted, will only be the 3rd record for the county.

23rd - The first Whitethroat of the spring was ringed and a female Blackcap was controlled. I have received the ringing details for the control Blackcap and it had been ringed at Stanford Reservoir in Northamptonshire, 162 km SE of Billinge, on 24th September last year.

The Whitethroat was carrying a passenger in the form of a tick under its left eye.

The control female Blackcap.
Hopefully I will be back to posting on the blog at least once a week from now on.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

One, two, Tree Pipits

Whilst today's forecast of wall to wall sunshine and a light southerly breeze wasn't going to be ideal for mist-netting it did bring the prospect of a fresh wave of early spring migrants. I went up to Billinge at first light and set three nets and was then joined by Mark McD who had asked to see some ringing. Mark has lived in America for many years but was brought up in Billinge and is over visiting family. He only started birding seriously after moving to the States so has quite a few gaps in his British List and he had seen I was reporting some of the species he wanted to connect with on the blog.

As it turned out he wasn't disappointed as 6 Lesser Redpolls, a lifer for Mark, were caught on the first net round and included 2 cracking adult males. There didn't appear to be a great deal moving overhead apart from a few Redpolls but the faint calls of stratospheric Siskins suggested there was more going on than was apparent. That was confirmed when a Tree Pipit turned up in one of the nets, another lifer for Mark. and the first one I have ever caught at the site in spring. I see and catch a good number of Tree Pipits in the autumn, predominately first year birds, but they are much less numerous and frequent in spring, as is to be expected.

Tree Pipit, a lifer for Mark, my first of the spring and the first ringed at the site in spring.
Mark had to go at 09:30 but we came across a Blackcap in full song at the SE corner of the site as he was leaving. This was the first singing Blackcap of the spring for both of us and almost certainly fresh in. Signs of migration didn't end there as another Tree Pipit was caught in the next net round. Just seeing a Tree Pipit this early would have been reward in itself but catching two was tremendous, like the weather. 

Tree Pipit number 2

Those tell tale pink legs and short hind claw.

This bird may have just arrived and still has some way to go but it could be on its way back to Africa in as little as four months time.
I wasn't going to go out again in the morning as I was going to overindulge tonight but I am hitting the Earl Grey instead and will be out again at dawn.

Ringing totals for 08/04/17 were: Great Tit 1; Willow Warbler 2; Tree Pipit 2; Lesser Redpoll 10. 15 new birds and no retraps.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Another Mealy

I made the effort to get up to Billinge at first light this morning and set 3 nets but my optimism didn't look like it was going to be rewarded with only 7 birds being caught in the first couple of hours. I had hoped some Redpolls would be on the move but there was nothing moving overhead and not a great deal moving through the bushes either. Things hadn't improved much by 09:30 so I started to think about packing up but then 3 Redpolls went north and rekindled my optimism. Better still the next check of the nets produced a nice Mealy Redpoll so any thought of packing up was put firmly on hold.

Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17

Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17

Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17
The remainder of the morning saw further improvement with a little trickle of Redpolls heading north and a better catching rate. While I didn't catch any more Mealies a total of 7 Lesser Redpolls were caught including one that had been ringed elsewhere. With a bit of luck I should get confirmation of where this bird was ringed back from the BTO tomorrow, although I do have good reason to believe it was originally ringed in East Sussex.

The control Lesser Redpoll was a cracking male. Details of where it was ringed will be posted in due course.
Chiffchaff numbers had increased since my last visit and all 5 that were caught were retraps from previous years (1 from 2015 and 4 from 2016). One of them had a cracking pollen horn. This bird must have spent a lot of time with its face in flowers, feeding on insects and probably drinking nectar, whilst fattening up for the return journey.

JTA492 Chiffchaff had the best pollen horn I have seen so far this spring

JTA492 Chiffchaff
The final tally of 18 new birds and 19 retraps was well worth the effort and made up for the slow start. Ringing totals (retraps or controls in brackets) were: Woodpigeon 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1 (3); Coal Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (3); Chiffchaff (5); Willow Warbler 2 (1); Robin (2); Chaffinch 2 (2); Lesser Redpoll 6 (1); Mealy Redpoll 1; Goldfinch 3; Yellowhammer (1).

07/04/16 update

The recovery report for the control Lesser Redpoll arrived today as predicted and it was originally ringed as a first-year at Icklesham in East Sussex in October 2011. This makes it just under 6 years old which is a good age for a Lesser Redpoll. The current longevity record in the BTO online report for 2015 is not much older at just over 6 years between time of ringing and recovery and that bird would have been around six and a half when recaptured. Full details and a recovery map will be posted in due course.