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.