Saturday, 31 December 2011

A day at Lound Lakes to round the year off

After having narrowly missed out on catching a Woodcock last time when setting up in the woodland ride at Lound Lakes I decided to try and get there a little bit earlier which obviously meant that none came in but at least the nets were ready this time.

The morning wasn't overly cool so I wasn't expecting a busy first round as birds wouldn't be rushing to the feeders and as it turned out the morning was at a nice and steady pace with a few birds each round making for a relaxed session. A higher number of thrushes caught than usual but the predominant customers still remain Blue Tits and Great Tits. Finches seem to have cleared off; onto nearby farmland perhaps.


Immature (5) Blackbird showing a few brown unmoulted greater coverts

In the afternoon a short attempt made in the Wildlife Garden to catch some retrap Blue Tits and Great Tits that had been ringed this year as nestbox pulli was thwarted by the sudden arrival of a Long-tailed Tit flock. 

Woodland Totals - 29 new, (16) retrap
Robin - 4
Blackbird - 4
Redwing - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 1, (1)
Blue Tit - 14, (10)
Great Tit - 4, (5)

Wildlife Garden Totals - 24 new, (3) retrap including a control
Dunnock - 2
Robin - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 13 new
Coal Tit - (2) including a control 
Blue Tit - 4, (1)
Great Tit - 4

Female Blackbird at Lound Lakes

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Final garden session of 2011

A brief break in the weather was there to be taken advantage of and with my 30' net up in the back garden I was determined to salvage something from the recent spell of high winds. A spot of garden ringing also kept me occupied whilst waiting for the emergency boiler service engineer to arrive and rectify a problem with a fuse blowing.

Quantity is never going to be a feature in a garden that can only comfortably accommodate a 30' mist net diagonally but for such a small patch the variety isn't bad and the location ensures that the seen from the garden list includes Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Barn Owl and bizzarely enough Wryneck. 

The highlight of the festive season session was definitely catching a second Starling taking advantage of the ample supply of fat balls and not too mention the boiler being successfully repaired.

More sparkly than the Christmas Tree

Totals - 12 new, (1) retrap
Robin - 2
Blackbird - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Great Tit - 2, (1)
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Starling - 1
House Sparrow - 3

Garden Totals for 2011 (from July onwards) - 111 new, (11) retrap
Wren - 2
Dunnock - 5
Robin - 9, (2)
Blackbird - 8
Goldcrest - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 19, (1)
Great Tit - 4, (1)
Starling - 2
House Sparrow 58, (7)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Jackdaw Rescue

After spending a day felling scrub at Upton Fen on the way home I received a call alerting me to the presence of a couple of birds seen flying around the lounge of a house belonging to an acquaintance in nearby Belton. The house is sometimes empty as the owner's primary residence is near Bristol. A neighbour had called him that day to report the net curtains in the front room being ripped by what she suspected to be a pair of Crows or Magpies. After collecting the key I nipped home to grab my ringing box and a small net with which I hoped to catch the villains.

Upon arrival there was no obvious sign besides papers everywhere, wall lights hanging at odd angles and a trail of bird excrement leading upstairs. All the downstairs rooms were duly checked - soot by the lounge fireplace hinting at means of entry - and doors closed to prevent re-entry; I climbed the stairs with trepidation. The bathroom was clear but the first bedroom looked as though it had been completely ransacked by the pair of Jackdaws who were clearly startled by my sudden appearance in the room. With the door closed the birds were quickly caught, bagged up and brought downstairs into the kitchen for ringing and processing. Two handsome and none the worse for wear Jackdaws were then released into the evening sky and a recommendation made for a chimney guard!

Adult Jackdaw

Yes, those curtains are as old as me!

A Hampshire weekend

Sat 17 - Mon 19 December 2011

The weekend before Christmas was spent visiting my parents in Hampshire. The weather forecast wasn't great but my 30' mist net was soon erected in their small semi-rural back garden. Despite their location on the edge of the newly designated South Downs National Park the birdlife visiting their garden is limited to a small range of garden species taking advantage of their feeding station; Collared Doves and Blackbirds being regular garden visitors.

Over three short morning sessions seven birds were caught. I was interested in the number of Blackbirds visiting the garden and in the end four were caught with another two bouncing. Two Dunnocks were caught flying away from the seed feeders but the highlight of the weekend was a Magpie trapped after it hurtled towards two Starlings feeding on fat balls. I had observed the Magpie sitting on the garden fence and thought that there would be little chance of it finding the net so my attention was diverted by a couple of starlings that had landed on the fat ball feeder, hoping that perhaps they would leave the feeders and fly into the net. I was startled therefore when the Magpie launched itself in what was clearly the direction of the Starlings. I have not previously encountered aggression by Magpies towards Starlings, although I'm sure it occurs, and the Magpie had not previously been noted visiting the feeders during the weekend of my visit.

Magpie caught whilst attacking Starlings

Monday, 12 December 2011

Decmember farmland session

On a very chilly Friday evening the nets were erected around the seed strip on Eastfield Farm in Lound, in readiness for an early start on Saturday morning. By the time Paul and Rob arrived I had already walked up the track and started unfurling the line of 60's between the seed strip and hedgerow and once all nets were open we decided to try and walk up some Skylarks which had been roosting in the adjacent field left to stubble. A few birds got up but were nowhere near to finding the single shelf that Paul and I had valiantly struggled with the previous evening.

A cool crisp start was hoped to have got birds using the seed strip early but with a slightly stronger south westerly than predicted together with a quickly rising sun the session got off to a slow start with many birds clearly being aware of the well lit 'wall' of nets. A few walks through the strip saw a good number of birds fly out but many rose above the nets and sat in the top of the hedgerow behind.

On a positive side the relaxed pace allowed Paul's trainees, Rob and Richard, to get to grips with ageing and sexing winter Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers as well as gaining some valuable extraction practice.

Male Reed Bunting 

Male Yellowhammer

The number of birds caught was clearly disappointing when considering the extra nets deployed in comparison to my preliminary visit. There were, however, quite a lot of birds using the strip and other strips and stubble in the neighbouring fields. The highly mobile Yellowhammer flock was numbering 30-40 although tending to favour another seed strip nearby. A number of goldfinches were feeding in a thin strip featuring an abundance of chicory and may be targeted in future visits.

Sadly the results of the second visit to the seed strip were hampered by the weather conditions with a steadily building breeze and bright sunshine rendering the nets highly visible. All, however, was not lost with two out of four target species being trapped for the project as well as an unexpected bonus in the form of a smart male Blackcap.

Totals - 18 new, (6) retraps with 2 controls
Wren - 1
Robin - (3) including control X547854
Blackbird - (1) control originally ringed in Paul's Burgh Castle garden
Song Thrush - 1
Blackcap - 1
Blue Tit - (1)
Chaffinch - 3
Yellowhammer - 3
Reed Bunting - 9, (1)

Controlled Robin

House Sparrow TS82001

After briefly putting my 30' up in the back garden a sum total of two birds were caught, both being House Sparrows. One was a new bird but the the other was a retrap and upon reading the ring number I was pleased to discover that I was holding the very first bird that I ringed after receiving my C permit - House Sparrow TS82001. He was originally ringed as an adult Male in the evening of 19 July 2011 and had yet to start his moult.

House Sparrow TS82001

Unfortunately I have yet to submit my application to set up a RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival), project for the House Sparrows that visit my garden which would include colour ringing to remove the need for retrapping; so I hope to catch TS82001 at least one more time.

For more information about RAS which aims to study the survival of adults in bird populations please visit the BTO RAS page.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Wash Wader Ringing Group November Weekend

Fri 25 - Sun 27 November was the final WWRG weekend for 2011 and it was a cold and windy Snettisham beach that greeted us on Friday evening as we set the nets with the aim of catching on the Saturday morning tide. The One Show had expressed an interest in filming the catch as part of a feature on the Wash Spectacular and were recording the set with infrared cameras.

Sadly on the following morning circumstances were against us as most of the birds gathered on the beach were disturbed by the headlights of a vehicle belonging to the Environment Agency who were checking the sea defences given the expected tide height. With the tide falling nets were fired on a diminishing group of grey waders most of which seemed to avoid capture. Five Grey Plovers and a Dunlin was never going to be the best catch with a film crew present but one of the Grey Plovers was a retrap which turned out to have been caught on the very same beach by the WWRG in February 1991 and having been ringed as a 6, this makes it at least 22 years old. That winter was particularly harsh with many Grey Plover being found dead so this bird is lucky to have survived to provide an interesting tale for the One Show cameramen. Along with the other Grey Plovers it received a white leg flag so that it may hopefully be seen by WWRG members and other birders, thus building a more complete picture of its movements.

 Grey Plover showing black 'armpit'

 Grey Plover with unmoulted primary

Plans for mist netting on Saturday evening were scuppered by the high winds buffdeting the East coast so it was decided that we should attempt to cannon net Oystercatchers on the afternoon tide at Snettisham. Two large mesh nets were set and the team retreated to wait for the rising tide to encourage the birds to march up the beach. As thousands of knot drifted lazily south the tide stopped short leaving the Oystercatchers a long way from the catching area. The sunset was amazing and the sight and sound of tens of thousands of Pink-footed Geese spanning the entire horizon was breathtaking and still we waited and waited... Finally the birds were on the move and as they entered the catching area the nets were switched in and the command to fire was issued.

By the time the birds had been extracted, put in keeping cages and the nets lifted from the beach it was darkness that surrounded the team gathered in in the lea of the sea wall. The 'jenny' was fired up and ringing and processing commenced. 106 new Oystercatchers were ringed and 43 retraps processed. It was interesting to note that several birds were still in active moult but considering the time of year it would be likely that this would be suspended. Supper was very well received by all that evening!

Sunday morning saw teams arrive at a number of locations to recce and search for colour ringed birds. The fierce weather that had lashed the East overnight was witnessed by some extremely high tides.

Sunset over Snettisham beach