Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Kittis with Colin - Part 2

It was a bright, warm and sunny morning that greeted Colin, Derek and I when we met at 07:00 in the car park at Ness Point, Lowestoft - Britain's most easterly point - before walking round to the SLP Engineering facility at Hamilton Dock. We were suited (overalls), and booted (steels), and equipped with our hard hats and safety glasses in order to comply with the strict health and safety regulations that SLP implement, and for good reason as the facility is an industrial site with many potential hazards.

We were escorted through the facility to the artificial Kittiwake nesting wall that SLP constructed on the outer harbour by Charlie from SLP who stayed to lower chicks down from the ledges upon which the nests are built. Given that SLP could only spare Charlie until 10:00 we had to work quickly in order to get all the chicks ringed and colour ringed. Despite this from 72 visible nests 87 chicks were ringed out of 99 chicks present, the remainder being too small to ring or inaccessible. Unfortunately a few of the nests are harbour facing and on a lower shelf that is inaccessible so these are left unringed.

In fact the team were operating so efficiently that Derek had an opportunity to have a go at catching a few adults using the pole mounted noose and successfully captured six new adults as well as a re-trap that was ringed at the SLP colony as a chick in 2007.

Nesting Kittiwakes on the SLP wall

In the evening the same team plus Mike Swindells met at Claremont Pier in Lowestoft to ring all the chicks that were too small to ring on the first visit a week ago. Having been a hot and sunny day the beach was still busy and having already attracted attention of some local bathers it was decided to leave catching any adults until later. In the end a further 22 chicks were ringed and colour ringed and 3 adults caught by Derek; all of which had been previously caught as adults at the colony.

Kittiwakes with chicks on Claremont Pier

Monday, 27 June 2011


Sunday saw my trainer, Paul Noakes and I opening the nets in his garden ringing site at the bright and early time of 04:00. Birds were slow to come in at first and things didn't really pick up until Paul's new trainee Richard arrived just after 05:00. Each net round, however, saw a steady trickle of common passerines with an emphasis on Blackcaps, Goldfinches and Great Tits. The majority of birds caught were recently fledged youngsters with young goldfinches clearly having already learnt where to find nyger seed.

The highlight of the morning came when Paul decided to attempt trapping adult Swifts in order to recover their geolocators fitted in the summer of 2010. Paul has quite a few Swift nest boxes of several designs fitted to his house with the most popular being the Schwegler Swift Box No16 which has a louvred front and is made from wood concrete. Last year Phil Atkinson and Chris Hewson of the BTO came and fitted geolocators to Seven adult Swifts from Paul's colony and because the light data is stored on the device the birds must be re-captured and the device removed for the data to be read.

When the geolocators were fitted the adult birds were lifted from the nest towards the end of the breeding season. This year, however, it was felt that it would be safer to catch them as they left the boxes for feeding flights. Hand held nets mounted on telescopic poles were held over the nest box when a Swift was seen entering it after which a lengthy wait ensued whilst the adult feeds the young. Upon exiting the box the swift is trapped in the net which is lowered for extraction.

Paul has already employed this method to capture a couple of adults carrying geolocators and this morning another two birds were re-trapped, processed and relieved of their harnesses and geolocators. Given that two adults are visiting each nest box it is not always possible to ensure that the bird being targeted is carrying a geolocator so it was a pleasant surprise to find that one of the birds caught wasn't a tagged bird and thus needed ringing. So a new species was added to my list and it was a real privilege to handle a bird that is surely one of the masters of the air.

Adult Swift Apus apus

Totals - 86 new, (14) re-traps
Swift - 1, (2)
Wren - 8
Dunnock - 2, (1)
Robin - 5
Blackbird - (2)
Cetti's Warbler - 1, (1)
Whitethroat - 2
Blackcap - 11, (1) including 10 juvs. 3J
Chiffchaff - 7 all 3Js
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 6
Great Tit - 19
Chaffinch - 3
Goldfinch - 18, (6) including 17 3Js

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Snakes Alive

On the way back from the morning's ringing session at Kessingland Sewage works I stopped off at Lound church to take some photos of Claire's arrangement for this year's flower festival. Walking to the church I was confronted by Rita, a well known Lound resident who excitedly told me about a snake that had been attacking a large toad residing in her garden. Her description was clearly that of a Grass Snake and she said that she had managed to scoop it up and when I went round it was lying coiled up at the bottom of her empty wheelie bin.

Being rather fond of her toad Rita asked me to release the snake nearby so I extracted it from the bin and carried it to some wet scrub near the village pond where it was released unharmed. Grass Snakes are one of the few animals that eat the Common Toad Bufo bufo which are distasteful due to their toxic skin secretion.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix

Rain stops play

On Saturday morning I met Colin and Mike at Kessingland sewage works with a view to working the scrub. Some early drizzle, however, saw a delayed start and despite erecting a couple of nets around the filter beds only one Swallow was caught before the sun rose and the flies went with it.

Although catching rates weren't spectacular, due most likely to the dazzling sunshine, some interesting birds were caught. Most were recently fledged juveniles including a 3J Lesser Whitethroat and the first from the reed bed; a 3J reed bunting and 3J sedge warbler.

3J Sedge Warbler

Totals - 12 new, (8 re-traps)
Wood Pigeon - 1
Swallow - 1
Dunnock - 2, (1)
Blackbird - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1, (2)
Lesser Whitethroat  - 1, (1)
Whitethroat - 1, (1)
Blackcap - 1, (1)
Chiffchaff - (2)
Blue Tit - 2
Reed Bunting - (1)

Sparrows keep on coming!

This photo taken rather aptly on Friday lunchtime at home shows that there are still House Sparrows to fledge. They nest wherever they can access which in this case means under the pantiles on the house and garage roofs and despite their scratching and cheeping they are welcome guests.

Male House Sparrow feeding one of his young

It would be nice to be able to ring them as nestlings and complete Nest Records for them but sadly I don't think that removing tiles would be very popular. This, however, must be the third or fourth nest to successfully fledge young so far this year - I can see the food bill rising again! It will be interesting to see if any of these youngsters are recruited into population that seem to spend most of the winter in the garden. Questions that could be answered when my 'C' permit arrives and I can put a net in the garden.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

House Martins at Waxham

On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to help catch House Martins at Waxham Great Barn with East Norfolk Ringing Group, of which I am a member. The group are very successful at catching this species and have embarked upon a RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival), project this year with an initial aim of catching 100 adult birds.

The trip to Waxham Great Barn was the second visit made as part of the project and is the first time I have been to the site. There were a good number of nests present and despite a hobby causing alarm 28 birds were caught with one being a control ringed as a 3 at Icklesham last year.

House Martin ringed for the ENRG RAS project

More detail about House Martins and the RAS project can be found at the East Norfolk Ringing Group blog.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Kittis with Colin

It was another breezy late afternoon that greeted Colin Carter, Derek Beamish and I when we arrived at Claremont Pier in Lowestoft to check on the breeding productivity of the Kittiwake colony and ring as many chicks as possible. Aside from the amusements and roller skate rink the remaining pier neck itself is closed to the public so it is with much gratitude to the management that we are given access to the colony which breeds on the disused pier neck.

Kittiwake chicks on the nest

Due to the short early evening time window before the arcade closes the nest checking and ringing has to be carried out as quickly as possible which means that the team must be extremely organised to get round in time. 

As nests are checked chicks to be ringed are placed in a bucket which means that firstly they can't escape and secondly that rings and pliers aren't dropped through the wooden boards that make up the pier walkway. The young are colour ringed where old enough as part of an ongoing project and any regurgitated food is bagged up and sent to the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), where it is analysed in an attempt to determine foraging grounds and prey species.

Chicks waiting to be ringed

In total 16 chicks were ringed from 9 nests on this visit with several to come back for.

After being shown last year by Jez Blackburn of the BTO, Derek, time permitting, is keen to catch adult birds using a noose on a pole. On this occasion four adults were caught of which two were ringed as adults here in 2010. Adult birds are also fitted with colour rings.

Colin (left) and Derek checking the colour ring
fit on an adult Kittiwake.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

More Kestrels...

It was a blustery afternoon when Paul and I arrived at a barn on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth to check on a Kestrel box. The box is of particular significance as it is being monitored by the RSPB to determine prey selection.

Kestrel chicks in the box

Despite the windswept location the parent birds are clearly doing well with six chicks staring out from the back of the box. They were duly bagged up, ringed, photographed and replaced. The only prey item present in the box was a small rat.

  The six Kestrels after ringing

A quick check in some nearby stables for swallow nests saw two broods of five ringed and one to come back for. The swallows at this particular location don't seem to have faired very well this year with few birds present and not many nests with evidence of recent fledging.

Swallow pulli

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Fluffy Falcons

Yesterday evening Dave Parsons (East Norfolk Ringing Group), and I went to check the kestrel box at Lound Lakes. Upon inspection three fluffy kestrel chicks were staring out and whilst small they were duly bagged up by Dave and brought down to be ringed, weighed and measured.

Three fluffy kestrel chicks

This is the second year that the box has been used now with three chicks being ringed last year so another good result for a new box.

Dave and I then went to carry out checks on some Barn Owl boxes in the locality but all three boxes visited had Stock Doves present. 2 young pulli in the first checked, eggs in the second and an adult with two very large and well feathered chicks in the third. So another good night for Stock Doves and a poor one for Barn Owls. It does seem as though Barn Owls may have struggled to get into breeding condition or suffered higher mortality than usual after the heavy snow in December last year. It may well be worth re-visiting some of these boxes to check for late breeding.

Reedbed bonanza

Tuesday morning, Colin, Derek and I set four nets in the scrub beside Kessingland sewage works along with the usual reed bed 60' and a net in a new ride between some sallow and the reed bed. This ride has not been used since I have been attending Colin's sessions at the sewage works and it was festooned with an array of tall foxgloves making it one of the most floristically attractive net rides that I have worked with.

Colin in his beautiful net ride

Shortly after setting the net birds started arriving and were hitting the net around us as we extracted. Whilst most birds caught were 'acro' warblers a few other species were trapped; one Reed Warbler was originally ringed at the site as an adult in 2008 which was nice to see.

Reed Warbler

As in the previous few sessions at Kessingland the scrub continues to produce recently fledged juveniles and it was pleasing to see the first young Chiffchaff of the year along with another juvenile Blackcap and more 3J Whitethroats.

 juv. Blackcap (3J)                   juv. Chiffchaff (3J)

The morning was brought to an exciting close when Colin and I decided to put our nest finding skills to the test and attempt to locate a Reed Warbler's nest. After donning out wellingtons and grabbing a cane each, we gingerly pushed our way around the edge of the reeds until Colin announced that he had found one. Upon inspection it was evident that the chicks were of a ringable age so I ended the day by with ringing my first brood of Reed Warbler pulli - thanks Colin!

Reed Warbler nest

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


On Monday evening my trainer, Paul Noakes and I went out to check a couple of Barn Owl boxes and ring some swallow pulli in his neighbour's kennel. After coming to the conclusion that either our knocking wasn't loud enough or the neighbour wasn't around we went to check the first of the boxes. In one barn with two boxes the first had a female stock dove - ringed last year by Paul - and two extremely well fed pulli. These three were duly bagged up and subsequently ringed. The second box was sadly empty with a few pellets and recent prey remains - a kidney, of unknown origin!

Two portly stock dove squabs

On visting the second barn a stock dove flew out and a dead male barn owl was found on the floor, it was pretty stiff but strangely not significantly decomposed. Upon checking the nest box four warm barn owl eggs were found so another visit will be made. The stock dove's nest was located and held two eggs.

Throughout the evening the cuckoo that we had failed to catch for the BTO Cuckoo satellite tracking project was calling incessantly or should that be goading!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Swallows and speckles

Colin, Derek and I arrived at Kessingland sewage works this morning to the promise of light rain. Despite this it was warm and once the flies had finally woken they were kept low bringing a good number of hirundines down to net height. We immediately responded by erecting nets around the filter beds with the hope of making a catch before the rapidly thinning clouds parted to reveal the full warmth of the sun and take the flies and the birds well out of reach.

Our efforts were rewarded with martins and swallows hitting nets as we worked on erecting the next ones. Upon taking our haul back to the ringing hut we discovered to our interest that four of the swallows were fledged this year.

Sand Martin                        House Martin

3J swallow with pale forehead/throat and short streamers

An additional catch from the 'hirundine nets' was a smart retrap green woodpecker. The male originally caught as a juvenile (3), in September 2007 had a 'brood patch' far more extensive than that commonly seen on male passerine species which share incubation and brooding.

Adult male Green Woodpecker (6M)

By this time our usual four nets had been erected in the scrub and were providing a good supply of juv. tits, robins (one individual moulting out juvenile body plumage - 3JP), and dunnocks - we must have ringed several broods at the site now. 

   juv. wren (3J)                          robin redbreast? (3JP)

Our coup de triomphe was to erect a single 60' net in a ride situated between a reed bed and a small clump of low sallow. Within fifteen minutes of leaving the net I arrived back to find a pleasing catch of at least fifteen birds. Reed and sedge warblers from the reed bed, a family of great tits from the sallow and  juv. white throats from all directions. Along with a couple of blackbirds this goes to show how favourable the union between two habitats can be for a wide range of species. Indeed, when extracting birds from the lower shelves the grass was crawling with invertebrates ranging from small flies and beetles to larger centipedes. Sadly the reed bed is quite dry which is another reason that so many species are moving through it.

juv. whitethroat (3J), showing characteristically dark iris.

In total 53 new birds were caught, with 18 retraps and 1 control. A really good morning and thanks must go again to Colin Carter for allowing me to help out at his site.

Green Woodpecker (1)
Sand Martin - 3
Swallow - 7
House Martin - 6
Pied Wagtail - 1 
Wren - 1
Dunnock - 5, (1)
Robin - 4, (2)
Blackbird - 2, (3)
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - (1)
Sedge Warbler - 1, (2), 1 control - L127888
Reed Warbler - 3, (4)
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Whitethroat - 8, (1)
Blackcap - 2
Blue Tit - 1
Great Tit - 6, (1)
Chaffinch - (1)
Reed Bunting - (1)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Speckly things

It was another dry day when I arrived at Kessingland sewage works to meet Colin Carter and the rest of his crew. Nets were set around some of the filter beds in an attempt to catch young starlings but despite generous helpings of tempting bread very few were present and we were lucky to catch one.

The four nets erected in the scrub proved to be far more productive particularly with a selection of recently fledged youngsters making their way noisily through the low trees and brambles.

juv. Robin (3J)

Juv. Dunnock (3J)

Juv. Blue Tit (3J)

The morning, however, was not just about catching young of the year and two Lesser whitethroats were notable amongst adult birds caught.

A smart Lesser Whitethroat

In an attempt to liven things up a 20' net was erected in a spot that has previously caught house sparrows as they move through the young hedgerow trees. With a stiff breeze blowing at the highest point of the site just a single female was caught. The day ended with Nick battling to ring a wood pigeon that I ran for just before the nets were taken down.