Monday, 14 May 2012

A thorny issue!

After a busy week surveying on the wind farm the Sutherland weather looked favourable for some garden ringing on Sunday morning. So with the the 30' net ready and feeders filled all that was needed was a brew and some birds. The House Sparrows, Chaffinches and Greenfinches were first in as usual and after the first few rounds I was surprised to hear shrill thrush like alarm calls coming from the general direction of the net. Upon checking two Song Thrushes and a Jackdaw were caught; I'm not sure what was upsetting the thrushes most, being trapped in the mist net or the proximity of the Jackdaw. The Song Thrushes were both young of this year clearly showing thorny median and greater coverts while the Jackdaw was an adult with a striking pale blue iris and wide rectrices - at least I now have an idea as to why the bird food (and my salary!), is disappearing so quickly.

 Juvenile (3J) Song Thrush, (left) and adult (6) Jackdaw, (right)

Siskins were again present in good numbers with eleven new birds being and another control captured. It will be interesting to see where these birds are going from.

Totals - 26 new, (5) retraps including a control
Song Thrush - 2
Coal Tit - 1, (1)
Jackdaw - 1
House Sparrow - 3, (1)
Chaffinch - 3
Greenfinch - 5
Siskin - 11, (3) inc a control.

After lunch a quick trip was made to Brora Harbour, with spring traps this time, to see if any Wheatears were still lingering before heading inland. The weather wasn't as favourable as the previous week with a cool breeze keeping insects low to the ground. It was quickly apparent that there weren't many birds around but a couple of Wheatears were spotted and after a few failed attempts I got lucky with a trap well placed in the rotting seaweed in the tide line. A large female was trapped and the biometrics were supportive of it being a member of the Greenland race leucorhoa.

2CY(5) female Greenland Wheatear

On the way to the beach a short stop was made to catch and ring a Lapwing chick that has recently hatched out in a field beside the A9. It has has survived a few days already but given the number of gulls loafing around I don't fancy it's chances but then again ...

Lapwing chick

Monday, 7 May 2012

Greenfinch Invasion and Siskin Controls

After an intensive week of surveying on the wind farm and the two control sites the weekend is time to relax, except of course when one gets up at 05:30 on Sunday morning to put a 30' mist net up in the garden and start ringing. Although with a Cuckoo calling nearby and Willow Warblers singing from scrub behind the cottage it was definitely rising early.

The first few hours were fairly productive with birds keen to take advantage of the freshly filled feeders. Greenfinches were particularly abundant with ten new individuals caught and two retraps from previous weeks. Siskin numbers still seem to be building and two controls were definitely the highlights of the session; it will be interesting to find out where they've come from. A fellow ringer from Thetford is sure that one of them may have been ringed in Brandon, Suffolk and will therefore have travelled a similar distance as myself to get here.

2CY(5) male Siskin 

It's been interesting to note that Goldfinches and Siskins don't know that they're supposed to be eating Nyger seed and seem more than happy to avail themselves of the sunflower heart rich seed mix and and peanuts.
Goldfinches enjoying peanuts

In the afternoon a visit to Brora harbour and beach found a number of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and a Wheatear taking advantage of an abundance of insects swarming around the rotting seaweed on the strand line. Three Twite were feeding in the car park and a pair of Linnets were observed repeatedly entering a block of Gorse over which the male was persistently singing indicating a nest site.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Nests and wind farm wildlife

With some warmer weather this week more migrants seem to be arriving with Cuckoos being heard most days, Wheatears becoming increasingly numerous and moving up the valleys to their nesting habitat, Swallows and Sand Martins pursuing insect prey around the trees in Strath Brora and Common Sandpipers chasing each other along the river. Walking though low cloud over the blanket bog one morning with Dunlins shrilly screaming their arrival, Golden Plovers uttering their plaintive peep and Greenshanks singing their distinctive bubbly song was highly evocative and captivating for a birder mainly used to seeing waders in the winter or on passage.

The Golden Plovers amongst other species are finally settling down to nest after the period of cold and unsettled weather in April. It is highly probable that a number of pairs would have failed with birds being forced to lower altitudes and unexpectedly high numbers observed feeding on the semi-improved grassland that serves as their usual off duty foraging grounds. It was pleasing, therefore, to have finally found our first nest for this year of the project and measuring the length, breath and mass of the eggs allows the density to be calculated and hatch dates predicted which for this nest will be towards the end of May.

Golden Plover nest on blanket bog

A Skylark's nest was also found whilst surveying one of the control sites for the project with the bird flushing just metres away allowing the nest to be easily located in the centre of a small grassy tuft.

Skylark nest

Insects are also becoming more active with a few species occurring in increasing numbers on the warm sunny days. The Common Heath Ematurga atomaria is a common day flying moth found in abundance during periods of prolonged sunshine. Male and females can be identified by their differing antennae with those of the male being characteristically feathered.

Common Heath

Carabus glabratus and Carabus problematicus are reasonably numerous large carabid ground beetles seen in the blanket bog habitat in which the wind farm is sited. 

  Carabus glabratum                                     Carabus problematicus

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Sunshine in the hand

Despite having been snowed on again up on the wind farm last week the weather this weekend was favourable for ringing and the usual 30' mist net was erected in front of the garden feeders. Despite the weather being warm birds were thin on the ground so considering that a few Willow Warblers have been singing in the vicinity it seemed like a good opportunity to try a tape lure. It was clear that none of the nearby birds were interested in my woodland warbler medley so a quick play with the Xeno-Canto website and Audacity and within five minutes I found myself extracting this stunning Willow Warbler - a ray of sunshine in the hand.

Willow Warbler

Totals - 8 new, (4) retraps
Willow Warbler - 1
Coal Tit - (2)
Blue Tit - 2, (2)
Great Tit - 2
Starling - 1
House Sparrow - 1
Chaffinch - 1

In the afternoon a leisurely drive down Strath Brora produced more Willow Warblers and the first Cuckoo of the year was heard. Stopping near a pine woodland a bright male Crossbill was heard calling in the manner of Scottish Crossbill; plenty of Siskins were fervently singing from the tops of the pines too. Other migrants heard and seen in the Strath included Common Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler. 

Wheatears are gathering in the Strath before pairing off to breed and several have been seen every day feeding on some grassland beside the wind farm entrance. I'd brought a couple of spring traps along just in case one was seen and as two were present traps were baited and set. After a few minutes spent herding the more compliant of the birds towards the waiting traps a Wheatear was trapped and ringed. The first on my own A's.

2CY (5) male Wheatear.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Garden ringing in Sutherland

The weather in the first few weeks since arriving could not really be described as suitable for mist netting but last weekend and the before provided good opportunities to see what has been eating the food from the newly purchased feeders.

Last weekend I positioned the 30' net in front of and parallel to, a line of tall mature trees - conifers and a single beech - that serve as the southern boundary to the garden and within which the feeders hang. I had been hoping to catch House Sparrows approaching the feeders as they fly through the garden from the neighbouring guesthouse run by our landlord Geoff and his wife Liz. 

This was met with a small success for the target species with seven trapped but not much else was caught as most birds approach the feeders through the trees thus requiring the net to be set perpendicularly to the tree line. So this weekend, after a quick chat to Geoff's son Ross a pair of loppers changed hands and light pruning commenced. A rudimentary ride was created allowing the 30' to be erected such that birds filtering through the trees would be intercepted.

With the new net placement the catch was almost double and several new species were caught including five Siskins, a species which is being seen in increasing numbers at the feeders. Several smart Greenfinches were also trapped on their way to the feeders.

 Adult (6) male Greenfinch (left) and 2CY (5) male Siskin (right).

The ringing was split between the morning and evening so in the afternoon I took a trip down to Brora harbour to see what would be using the rocks at high tide and was pleased to find a small flock waders including 18 Purple Sandpipers, five of which were wearing coloured leg flags fitted as part of a study by members of the Highland Ringing Group who have gone on to fit a further sample of this species with light level geolocators. Two Turnstone and a couple of Knot were also present.

Roosting Turnstone, the bird on the right 
is coming into breeding plumage

15 April Totals - 12 new
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 2
Great Tit - 1
House Sparrow - 7
Greenfinch - 1

22 April Totals  - 20 new, (3) retraps
Dunnock - 2
Robin - 1
Coal Tit - 1, (1)
Blue Tit - (1)
Great Tit - 3
House Sparrow - 4
Chaffinch - 1
Greenfinch - 3
Siskin - 5, (1)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wind farm update

Survey work at the wind farm continues apace despite the odd day of really bad weather. As can be seen from this vista over the wind farm snow is still a feature in the landscape and despite capping the surrounding hills with a beautiful white blanket that contrasts spectacularly with the crystal clear blue sky, the recent spell of wintery weather seems to be badly hampering the breeding efforts of the Golden Plovers. Many are still being seen in pairs indicating that nesting has not yet taken place as the incubation is shared, with the male taking the day shift. In previous years of the project several pairs would have been on nests by this time with most starting to settle. Time will tell what sort of impact the weather will have had on their breeding success.

View looking north over the wind farm

Common Lizard basking on my Weatherwriter

Monday, 9 April 2012

And Caithness...

On Sunday a small expedition was mounted to explore the nearby town of Helmsdale and venture across the border into Caithness. Once a fish and chip lunch had been consumed in the snappily named 'La Mirage' we journeyed on the A9 out of Sutherland and into Caithness heading to the small fishing village of Dunbeath. We were looking to discover small pockets of seabirds and weren't disappointed with seeing Black Guillemots from the end of the jetty, their red feet clearly visible as they dived under the waves in search of food. Meanwhile an early Wheatear was seen hopping around the top of the beach as we set off towards the cliffs to check for Fulmars and Razorbills that had been seen coming in off the sea.

Fulmar on cliffs at Dunbeath

A loosely arranged colony was found with birds starting to pair up and some vigorous squabbling was in full swing. Razorbills were also on the cliffs but in the next bay and as the tide was high we couldn't easily get round so will save that for another day.

Other birds of note included three Red-throated Divers on the sea by Brora harbour.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Arrived in Sutherland

After a week spent near Aviemore attending hill skills and 4x4 driving courses in preparation I have finally arrived in Sutherland ready to start my summer job working as a research assistant with the RSPB looking at the impact of a wind farm upon breeding Golden Plover. The role will involve lots of surveying in the wind farm and two neighbouring control sites as well as catching adult Golden Plovers and their chicks and fitting them with tiny radio transmitters to allow their foraging behaviour to be tracked.

Since arriving the recent spell of unseasonably mild weather has broken bringing extremely poor wintery weather meaning that we have had to delay surveying as many birds and the Golden Plover in particular are spending their time feeding at lower altitude where the weather is not so harsh. Snow was not expected and will have certainly prevented the Golden Plovers from establishing their territories on the blanket bog where the wind farm is located and flocks numbering 50-60 birds have been observed feeding on sheep fields in Strath Brora though which the River Brora runs.

The down time has however, given us time to familiarise ourselves with the local area and birding hotspots. An interesting selection of species have been seen within the first week of being up here with a couple of locations being particularly productive. Brora harbour and the surrounding beaches have been good for sea birds with small flocks of Long-tailed Duck being present most days along with varying numbers of  Common Eider. There was talk of a male King Eider having been seen in the area but it proved elusive. Sandwich Terns have started arriving whilst Gannets can usually be seen offshore. A few Razorbills can often be spotted bobbing on the waves with the odd Fulmar almost touching the sea as it glides between the white horses. On one visit a large flock of over 100 Knot were seen using the rocks just north of Brora harbour mouth as a high tide roost, endlessly jostling for position as the high tide lapped the rocks they stood on. One day a Peregrine was seen hassling the Redshanks which come into the harbour mouth at high tide.

Looking north from Brora beach

Loch Fleet a few miles south of Golspie on the A9 is a National Nature Reserve and a component of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA and RAMSAR sites. The reserve consists of a fresh water lagoon separated by a sluice from an estuary with extensive tidal mudflats used by waders and a population of grey seals. The lagoon has been packed with birds on recent visits with highlights being Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pintail and the first Osprey for the year. The river flowing through the estuary has held over 30 Red-breasted Mergansers and numerous Goldeneye.

 View towards the mouth of Loch Fleet

Ringed Plover on the beach at the mouth of Loch Fleet

A variety of inland sites have provided gems such as Black-throated Diver, Raven and Dippers which can be found on many small burns throughout the area. One of the first wind farm visits produced a female Goshawk but with small flocks of Fieldfare being seen at lower altitudes as well as the Golden Plover being seen foraging in the sheep fields in Strath Brora, it is clear that sadly, the cold snowy weather is not over just yet. It does seem odd though to be seeing Fieldfare in the same view as newly arrived Wheatears. Hopefully we have seen the worst of this brief return to wintery weather and we'll be able to start surveying up at the wind farm

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Final garden session

Yesterday I opened the net in the back garden for the last time before heading up to Scotland to commence my summer job with the RSPB. The first bird in was a Woodpigeon which perhaps surprisingly, is a new species trapped and ringed in the garden, although given the amount of holes in the 30' that have already been caused by bouncy, scratchy Woodpigeons I'm not sure how many more I'd want to catch! It was nice to get another House Sparrow bringing the total caught since garden ringing commenced to 67 with 13 retraps; a reasonable haul for a plot the size of a small handkerchief - the 30' net only fits diagonally!

Adult (6) Woodpigeon

The real highlight was retrapping a Long-tailed Tit that had originally been caught in the woodland ringing ride at Lound Lakes. This individual was one of the first birds caught during a busy ringing session on a very cold morning in October last year, so it was uplifting to know that it had survived the winter and had undertaken an epic movement of 1.3 kilometres. 

A well travelled Long-tailed Tit

I will miss garden ringing sessions this summer and particularly the population of local House Sparrows for which I was planning to start up a RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival), project. I am however, looking forward to experiencing a completely different habitat with different species and of course surveying and radio tracking the Golden Plover adults and chicks to examine any possible impacts of the wind farm upon their breeding success.

Totals - 8 new and (1) retrap
Woodpigeon - 1
Long-tailed Tit - (1)
Blue Tit - 2
Great Tit - 2
House Sparrows - 1
Goldfinch - 2

Garden Totals, July 2011 - March 2012 - 182 new, (27) retraps
Woodpigeon - 1
Wren - 3
Dunnock - 9, (4)
Robin - 11, (3)
Blackbird - 15
Goldcrest - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 2, (2)
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 33, (3)
Great Tit - 9, (1)
Starling - 12
House Sparrow - 67, (13)
Chaffinch - 2
Goldfinch - 16, (1)

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sheepish Starling...

On Sunday morning I decided to open the garden net as well as having another go at catching a Blackbird in the front garden using a spring trap. The male bird in question refuses to visit the back garden and as a result remains unringed. Interestingly, he does seem to have taken up territory at the front and never moves far even when approached. 

With the trap set and the mealworms doing their best at wriggling all that was left to do was to put the kettle on and extract anything from the 30' in the back garden. Two Goldfinches later, including the first retrap for the garden and the spring trap had made a catch. It wasn't however the target species that had been caught but instead I was faced with removing a very sheepish looking Starling that had obviously been eyeing the bait from roof in which they've been busily building their nest this year.

 Spring Trap ready complete with bait

Rather sheepish looking female Starling

Although the morning wasn't exactly awash with birds a further four Starlings were mist netted along with two Chaffinches trapped together in the bottom shelf and were a new species for the garden. A female Blackbird was caught in the mist net, the spring traps failing to catch another bird.

 Chaffinches - 2CY (5) male left, adult (6) female right

Totals - 14 new and (1) retrap
Blackbird - 1
Blue Tit - 5
Starling - 5
Chaffinch - 2
Goldfinch - 1, (1)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mini ringing demo at Lound Lakes

Saturday was the last volunteer session at Lound Lakes before I head north to take up my summer job as a Research Assistant with the RSPB. It was also to be the final session being supervised by Bob Hindley the departing temporary warden. Upon arriving it was clear that Bob hadn't been expecting that many volunteers to turn up and as a result there were far too many of us for the work that he had planned. Given that the weather was good I had brought the ringing gear with a view to doing a bit after the planned volunteer session. With no set task I quickly decided to set the 30' in the usual gap in the hedgerow across which birds fly to an assortment of different feeders. A few volunteers remained to weed the wildlife garden whilst Bob took the others for a short walk around the reserve.

After a few minutes birds were being caught and ringing commenced with a small number of interested onlookers keenly looking at the wriggling bird bags. The first couple of rounds supplied the usual Blue Tits, Great Tits and Dunnocks and the wildlife gardeners patiently watched while I processed the catch, explaining ageing and sexing criteria as I worked.

Adult (6) male Blue Tit

It was not long before the rest of the group returned from their walk and were also eager to learn a bit more about our common woodland birds. The gathered group were not disappointed when a Greenfinch was caught and excitement levels were raised as I went dashing towards the net when not one but two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were caught inches away from each other at the far end of the net.

It was a good morning and while the catch wasn't overwhelming I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the Lound Lakes volunteers about bird ringing and to show them a few species in the hand. The stars of the show however, were undoubtedly the two female Great Spotted Woodpeckers who did a great job of causing a commotion, with one of them screaming incessantly throughout the ringing process and taking it's 'pound' of my flesh while I held it for photos. Interestingly both had early stage brood patches - BP1.

2CY (5) female Great Spotted Woodpecker

I shall miss working with the friendly group of dedicated volunteers who are committed to helping to improve and manage the habitats on the reserve at Lound Lakes for the benefit of wildlife. As I write this management of the site - owned by Essex & Suffolk Water - is in the process of being passed from the Broads Authority to Suffolk Wildlife Trust so I wash them well for the coming summer and year ahead.

Totals - 11 new, (9) retraps
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2
Dunnock - 2, (1)
Long-tailed Tit - (1)
Blue Tit - 3, (5) including 2 ringed by East Norfolk Ringing Group
Great Tit - 3, (2)
Greenfinch - 1

Friday, 2 March 2012

Goldfinches - finally

After having tried nyger in the garden on several previous occasions this attempt finally seems to have paid off and several Goldfinches seem to be using the feeder on a regular basis. Interestingly none have tried to feed when the garden mist net is in use so it was a pleasure to find myself extracting a Goldfinch in the garden for the first time today followed by another four throughout the morning. Let's hope that there are more to come!

Adult (6) male Goldfinch

Totals - 13 new (2) retraps
Blackbird - 1
Long-tailed Tit - (1)
Blue Tit - 4, (1)
Great Tit - 2
Starling - 1
Goldfinch - 5

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The last of Burgh Castle for a while...

Given that I shall be starting my summer job as a Research Assistant with the RSPB in mid March this would most likely be my last opportunity to do some ringing with my trainer Paul and his trainee Rob. First light is becoming increasingly early and this combined with the late night before after catching Dunlins with the Wash Wader Ringing Group meant that Rob struggled in about an hour after Paul and I opened the nets.

The warm temperature and gentle breeze should have made ideal catching conditions but as has often been the case this winter there were not many birds around which whilst not being great did give a good chance for Rob to practice his mist net extractions. Interestingly a few Jays and Magpies were seen flying around the garden and the trees bordering the neighbouring grazing marsh so it was not a total surprise when a Jay was caught during one net round with Paul and I watching on smiling whilst Rob found himself extracting a bird 'capable of causing pain'. 

Not an ad for expensive photography wear but 
a photo of a glove wearing wimp holding a 2CY Jay.

Greenfinches were also a feature of the day with a good of total of eighteen trapped after taking advantage of the top quality sunflower hearts that Paul dutifully provides with a good mix of 2CY (5) birds and adults (6). It was a nice steady session with a good breakfast provided as always by Paul's wife Tracey. I shall miss them during my summer in Sutherland.

Pair of adult Greenfinches

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gedney Dunlins

On Saturday afternoon a small team from the Wash Wader Ringing Group met at the Old School House to get kit ready for an evening mist netting session at a new site near Gedney in Lincolnshire. We were soon on our way and upon arrival split the netting equipment between two teams and set out across the salt marsh to put up nets in readiness for the high tide later on in the evening. Once the nets were set we headed back to the cars to set up base camp and order a fish and chip supper before returning to the nets with the tape lure systems. At this point darkness had started to descend and one or two birds, all Dunlin, had found the nets. We set the tapes going and went back to base camp to deliver our catch and tuck into the tasty food that had arrived in our absence.

A further two net rounds produced more Dunlin bringing the total to 31 - all new birds. A small team was assembled to process the birds after they'd been ringed. For some people on the trip it was the first time they'd had the opportunity to handle a wader species so the small catch enabled them to become familiar with Dunlin ageing. Fortunately the night wasn't too cold and we were pleased with a small but successful catch at the new site.

Taking biometric measurements from a Dunlin

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Knot spectacular

Friday evening saw a very cold team return from setting cannon nets on Snettisham beach. Four small mesh nets were set with a view to catching some of the large Knot flock that had been seen there on the morning recce. Given that all the usual grot was covered with snow it was decided to use the snow itself to conceal the net set, making for very cold hands for some grotters.

Upon arriving at the beach on Saturday morning car temperature gauges were reading an unbelievable minus fifteen degrees Celsius, after a few minutes sitting at base camp behind the sea wall it definitely felt like it. I was quick to volunteer when the hide team requested a twinkler and soon warmed up a little on the 100 metre run behind the sea wall. The attempt was futile as birds just flew out and then landed back in the same spot so I endured lying prostrate in the snow while we waited for a Turnstone to climb off the net that promised the best catch. As it wouldn't move the decision was taken to fire the adjacent net over far fewer birds but mid conversation the bird took flight and the preferred net was fired over a large quantity of Knot.

Extracting Knot Photo by Alice Tribe

Small mesh nets have the advantage that should an excessively large catch be taken a corner can be lifted to allow some birds to escape. As shown in the photo birds do not become entangled. In this instance, however, it was decided to start extracting as soon as the net was lifted away from the edge of the rising tide. It quickly became evident that the catch was very large indeed and box after box was filled with Knot and taken back to the team erecting the keeping cages on the very icy beach. Once the keeping cages were starting to fill up a couple of ring and fling teams were recruited to crack on with the mammoth task of ringing several thousand Knot. Given the size of the catch only a small sample of were Knot passed to the assembled processing teams. Other species were fully processed with Bar-tailed Godwits receiving leg flags as part of the group's on going colour mark project.

 Knot Photo by Alice Tribe

Bar-tailed Godwit Photo by Alice Tribe

In debrief the team leaders remarked upon how efficiently the catch was dealt with and that all the birds seemed to be in good condition considering the recent spell of harsh weather. It should be noted that it was still minus five when we left the beach but being involved with such a spectacular catch made the frozen toes and bruised knees truly worth it. Such large catches are very rarely made and this was the largest for forty years. Controls hailed from Norway (5), Iceland (1), Holland (2), Germany (1) and Britain (13). Interestingly the oldest retrap was 19 years old and will have survived many a cold winter.

Ringing Knot on Snettisham beach Photo by Rob Robinson

Totals - 2831 new, (95) retrap
Oystercatcher - 11, (3)
Knot - 2680, (77)
Sanderling - 1
Dunlin - 35, (2)
Bar-tailed Godwit - 104, (13)

Needless to say the mist netting planned for Saturday evening was cancelled due to the large cannon net catch but also the freezing fog that had kept temperatures low in the morning was still lingering over the salt marshes and would render the nets highly visible.

Sunday morning saw a number of teams depart to various locations around the Norfolk side of the Wash to do some colour ring resighting and general birdwatching. My team headed to RSPB Snettisham Pits and were rewarded with extremely close views of Goldeneye and a beautiful drake Red-breated Merganser. A flock of Snow Buntings were flying up and down the beach and both Short-eared and Barn Owls were seen. The only birds lacking were those wearing colour rings but a good morning and weekend were had by all.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Snowy Blackcap

Whilst the Sunday in Hampshire was spent with Pete Potts and his team from Farlington Ringing Group Saturday and Monday mornings were spent watching a 30' mist net erected in my parents' Clanfield garden. Despite the cold and snowy weather the feeders were relatively quiet leading to a very small catch. One highlight however, was a male Blackcap being caught on Monday morning. The over wintering warbler had been seen periodically throughout the winter so it was interesting to be ringing a summer migrant in early February.

 2 CY (5) male Blackcap

Totals - 5 new
Robin - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Blackcap - 1
Coal Tit - 1
Starling - 1

Hampshire Waders

Despite the snow that fell overnight in the South Downs it was snow free when I arrived on Sunday morning at Weston Shore near Southampton to meet Pete Potts and his team from Farlington Ringing Group. I had reported a colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit seen at Titchfield Haven last summer and Pete invited me to join his group for a cannon net catch in the Solent so as I was in Hampshire visiting my folks I arranged to meet him to try for some Dunlin that were coming to a patch of mud on Weston Shore in Southampton Water.

Meeting at 09:00 meant more sleep than usual before a cannon net catch and the site is very different from those operated on the Wash. The beach is a thin strip of stony shoreline in view of several high rise apartment blocks and next to a well used path popular with what seemed like every dog walker within a ten mile radius. With a single net set we retreated to a bench (luxury!), and waited for the tide to rise and the birds to arrive. a few Brent Geese were swimming tantalisingly just out of reach and still we waited. Ruth who was on the firing box had to answer a call of nature and retreated to the toilet block (more luxury!), leaving me to take the catch as directed by Pete. Eventually a small flock of Dunlin arrived and the order to fire came quickly. Upon running to the net it was immediately apparent that one of the middle cannons hadn't fired with the result that most of the flock had escaped capture leaving just four birds to be extracted one of which found freedom and with only two Ringed Plovers and a single Turnstone remaining it was clear that we wouldn't be short of ringing pliers.

With the kit packed up we headed back to the car park and set up a small processing area to deal with the birds. Pete's trainees Dan and Pete did the ringing with Ruth Crogan and I fitting the colour rings. Pete scribed and Tim Walker checked the biometrics. Ruth checked the unfired cartridge only to find the powder damp; it was presumed this had occurred on the group's previous trip where the net hadn't been fired.

 Pete and his team processing the 'catch'.

 Dan and I proudly holding our CRinged Ringed Plover before release.
Photo - Ruth Crogan

Ruth holding the CRinged Turnstone.
Photo - Ruth Crogan

Despite the the technical failure resulting in a very small catch it was a nice morning and it was really good to meet Pete and his team for some Hampshire ringing. I was made to feel really welcome and will certainly try to attend another catch. After returning to Pete's and unloading and cleaning the kit a warming lunch was served followed by some Brent Goose colour ring resighting. This is much easier said than done as c2000 geese were stood grazing amongst the winter grain crop making the colour rings very difficult to spot particularly for those with no previous experience with the colours and engravings. After an hour or so and with failing light we had racked up a respectable 30 individuals.

Flock size?

Monday, 30 January 2012

Green Wood at Lound

On Sunday morning moving the 40' net to just outside the ringing ride in the woodland at Lound Lakes seemed to have been a poor decision. I had hoped to catch one or two of the Blackbirds that are always flying across the larger open area between the end of the ride and the lake edge but by the time the frost was dripping off the trees all that had been caught was a single Great Tit. When checking the 30' net by the feeders a Green Woodpecker flew down the net ride and turned towards the newly positioned net. A short run found me extracting my first GreenWoodpecker since becoming a C ringer - brilliant!

2 CY (5) female Green Woodpecker

Other birds of note included a retrap Goldcrest ringed last October. It is always amazing how such tiny birds can survive throughout the winter and whilst it has been predominantly mild so far there have been a few colder days and February could always throw up some nasty surprises.

 2 CY (5) male Goldcrest, left and stunning adult male (6) Blue Tit, right.

Totals - 25 new, (27) retraps
Green Woodpecker - 1
Dunnock - 1
Robin - 2, (1)
Blackbird - 2
Goldcrest - (1)
Long-tailed Tit - 6, (6)
Coal Tit - 1, (4)
Blue Tit - 5, (12)
Great Tit - 7, (2)
Chaffinch - (1)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

January Farmland Visit

Tuesday saw me trudging along the bridleway to set the nets around the wild bird seed strip on Eastwood Farm in Lound. This is the third visit as part of the Waveney Bird Club project investigating the effectiveness of various farm stewardship options.

Once again the weather was sunny thus reducing the number of birds caught but despite this thirty new birds were caught although not having a single retrap was disappointing. There seemed to be an unusually high number of thrushes present in the hedgerows comprising almost a third of the total catch. One Song Thrush had a colour aberration in which the tips of the adult median and greater coverts were white.

  Regular Song Thrush, left, Song Thrush with colour aberration, right.
Both birds are 2 CY (5) with clearly visible retained juv. greater coverts.

Despite buntings and finches being somewhat elusive on this visit to the seed strip it was fantastic timing when the Ed, the tenant farmer turned up just as I was extracting five Yellowhammers and a couple of Goldfinches from one net.

 2 CY (5) male Goldfinch, left & 2 CY (5) male Yellowhammer, right.

Despite the bright conditions it was a reasonable session although it would have been good to see more finches and buntings as well as some retraps. Having had a good look at the seed strip it would seem that much of it has been eaten out already so Ed has kindly given us some wheat with a view to attracting birds to a whoosh netting area.

Totals - 30 new with no retraps
Dunnock - 5
Robin - 1
Blackbird - 8
Song Thrush - 3
Great Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Yellowhammer - 5
Reed Bunting - 4