Sunday, 16 November 2014

A chat or two...

For various reasons, I haven't been out ringing in Bedfordshire for 6 weeks, so it was nice to be out again. Quality was the order of the day and it took some patience. At Sandy Smith Nature Reserve, 6 birds were ringed between dawn and 2pm when the rain came.

Above & Below: A female Stonechat

This pair of Stonechats have been around the reserve for 6 weeks or more and are probably overwintering there. Both were youngsters. To put this in some perspective, the Ivel Ringing Group have only ever ringed 3 - the last one 20 years ago. I don't think many have been ringed in the county by other ringers either.

Above & Below: A male Stonechat

Two Wrens were ringed either side of the Stonechats. But as the nets were located in an area not conducive to catching lots of birds, I thought I'd try for other species I wouldn't normally catch. One Meadow Pipit was ringed (the last ones I caught here was in 2011), and a species I've never ringed before:

Above & Below: A Pied Wagtail 

The Stonechats and the Pied Wagtail are new species ringed for the site. I have now ringed 52 species here. I packed up when the rain came, but didn't leave as my net rides needed a trim and the feeders topping up. Now I am home, I can reflect on a enjoyable days work well done!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Wagtail delight

In the period since my last post, I have been busy ringing (and entering data!) but the numbers ringed haven't topped the heights of August. However, quality has been in evidence.
We are well into peak migration time for our summer breeders. Some species are largely gone already, whilst some are still in full flow and Blackcap migration seems to have peaked already but will continue for a little while yet.
At Sandy Smith Nature Reserve (SSNR) I've caught a couple of late Reed Warblers (12/09/14), a late Sedge Warbler (13/09/14) and 15 Blackcaps so far in September. Favoured natural food for Blackcaps are the purple Elderberries which have been in abundance in my ringing area - though it was noted the other day that the berries are wilting & dying (perhaps because of age, perhaps continued heat!). 10 Chiffchaffs have accompanied the tit flocks so far in September and just 1 Whitethroat has made an appearance (compared to 3 in 2013, 0 in 2012, 4 in 2011 and 4 in 2010).
And then there's the quality:

Above & Below: A juvenile Yellow Wagtail.

A flock of Yellow Wagtails were in amongst the sheep and cattle on SSNR. A roost session produced just the 1 bird - the first of this species ringed here. The site list is now up to 50 species ringed, with one other species - Mute Swan - ringed elsewhere.
The main species missing from the ringing list  at SSNR (because they haven't been targeted and might prove more difficult to catch) are Skylark, Woodpigeon, Snipe, Swallow, Stonechat and Whinchat.

The following day, in my usual ringing area, a surprise in the nets (it wasn't seen beforehand) was:

Above: A juvenile Spotted Flycatcher (3rd ringed on site following singles in 2011 & 2013).

On Monday 22nd, on a walk around the reserve, a large number of Meadow Pipits were observed (50+), as were a number of Skylarks but best of all - 2 Stonechats in the mist (they were gone by lunch time). I later observed a fox at quite a distance, hunting for food in broad daylight.

My other site - Priory Country Park (PCP) - has been producing good numbers too now that the CES restrictions are lifted. In September, of the migrants, we've ringed 3 more Reed Warblers, 36 Blackcap, 18 Chiffchaff and 2 Willow Warblers. Of the birds coming to the feeding station, 42 have been new Blue Tits and 37 of the Great Tit variety whilst 11 have been Chaffinches. Our first two juvenile Bullfinches of the year were ringed too - surprising that we didn't ring any juveniles during the CES season.

I have commented previously that it has been a good year for Goldcrest - 6 juveniles have been ringed this month so far at PCP (making 10 for the year).

It won't be long now until we are graced with species that migrate to our country to spend winter with us (some may already be here). I personally look forward to Lesser Redpoll and Siskin migration most. Lets hope for favourable weather to bring them to our shores!

I hope to run another ringing session at Priory on Sunday 28th September - with a demonstration for the Guided Bird Walk - meeting 9am at the visitor centre.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The last two weekends...

Since my last post, I have made 2 ringing visits to Priory Country Park and 2 to Sandy Smith Nature Reserve.
The visits to Priory Country Park have been the last two of the Constant Effort Survey season. All 12 visits were made again this year for the 4th year in a row. Each one of the 12 visits can be compared to the corresponding visit on previous years allowing us to monitor breeding success and abundance by taking standardised population 'samples'.
The final CES totals for 2014 are:
Woodpigeon 2 (0)
Green Woodpecker 3 (2)
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (0)
Wren 19 (14)
Dunnock 21 (13)
Robin 22 (13)
Blackbird 24 (15)
Song Thrush 7 (0)
Reed Warbler 10 (0)
Whitethroat 15 (8)
Garden Warbler 26 (6)
Blackcap 104 (8)
Chiffchaff 16 (4)
Goldcrest 4 (0)
Long-Tailed Tit 2 (1)
Blue Tit 23 (3)
Great Tit 13 (6)
Treecreeper 2 (0)
Magpie 2 (0)
Chaffinch 2 (0)
Goldfinch 4 (1)
Bullfinch 4 (2)
A total of 326 new birds and 89 retraps (415 total handlings) of 22 species. N.B. Totals include an extra visit (April pre-CES), extra nets on all visits and some 'after official hours' captures.
Blackcap (as is usual for this site) had most captures and it seems as though this was a good year for them. Disappointing was the lack of Bullfinch juveniles (none were ringed). A control Chiffchaff early in the season was a highlight as were 3 new and 2 recaptured Green Woodpeckers (involving 4 birds and including 2 juveniles) - usually one a year is what we might expect. 2 juvenile Magpies were unusual for CES and Goldcrests seem to have had a good year (benefitting from higher survival rates due to a very mild winter).
Away from Priory Country Park, the 2 visits to Sandy Smith Nature Reserve were particularly productive with 130 captures on 24th and 151 on 31st August!
There were some notables amongst the catches:

Above: A juvenile Green Woodpecker - the first juvenile to be ringed here

Above: A Chiffchaff - this one was a little reluctant to leave my hand after being set free, allowing me a unique photograph opportunity. It soon flew off strongly when gently encouraged to do so.

Above: The Mute Swans in this photograph were both ringed, but only one was colour ringed (the top one) thus allowing me to read the ring no. This bird was ringed on The Embankment in Bedford last year. It represents the first Mute Swan in the database for SSNR. Until the other one is colour ringed, I probably won't get a good enough sight of the metal ring to read it.

Other notables were:

Treecreeper - a recapture at 344 days setting a new longevity record for the site (90 days previously).

Blackcap - a British ringed control was caught on 31st August. It'll be nice to find out where this (a juvenile) came from.

Reed Warbler - 3 juveniles represent the first 3 juveniles ringed on site (the only other records of this species being 2 adults in previous years. I don't think they breed on site so these must be passage migrants.

Kingfisher - a single bird became the 3rd juvenile of the year (an adult was also ringed earlier in the year).

As the session on 31/08/14 was my largest for the site - here are the details:

Mute Swan 0 (1)
Kingfisher 1 (0)
Wren 2 (1)
Dunnock 4 (3)
Robin 0 (1)
Blackbird 1 (0)
Song Thrush 1 (0)
Reed Warbler 2 (0)
Whitethroat 2 (0)
Blackcap 11 (9)
Chiffchaff 4 (0)
Willow Warbler 4 (0)
Goldcrest 1 (0)
Long Tailed TIt 11 (3)
Blue Tit 21 (22)
Great Tit 15 (25)
Treecreeper 0 (1)
Chaffinch 0 (1)
Goldfinch 4 (0) - the first at this site all year (despite the food I put out)

I suspect September is going to be a very good month as passage migration continues. Watch this space!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A cracking day...

Yesterday, Saturday 16th August, I made a visit to Sandy Smith Nature Reserve - same as I do most weekends. Starting at the crack of dawn, I set up my nets and I was well rewarded for my efforts.

The weather conditions and time of year, all play their part in the presence (or absence) and abundance of birds and the species I might catch. This year Blue Tit juveniles have been rather thin on the ground, as have Common Whitethroats despite what appears to have been a good year weather wise for breeding.

Yesterday, the ringing results showed 2 things - no Common Whitethroats (I should still be catching them) and a marked increase in the no. of Blue Tits ringed. This increase is probably as a result of birds from 'further afield' arriving on site.

In the end, I caught 111 birds of 15 species. This being the joint highest ringing total for a single day at this site.
Of course, I took some photographs...

Above: A juvenile Jay (3rd youngster ringed this year) 

Having caught 1 Jay (2013) previous to this year, it has been a pleasant surprise to catch 5 so far this year (3 adults, 2 juvs). My main ringing area is being left to mature into (mainly Alder) woodland, with some planting to speed up the process - so perhaps this is a sign that Jays are finding the habitat more to their liking. Or they may have just found a way to take advantage of my feeding station!

Above: Juvenile Kingisher (1 of 2 ringed)

The Kingfishers have been bombing around up and down the river on a regular basis throughout this year (the mild winter benefitting this species as survival is greater). Kingfisher breeding is also prone to being devastated by floods but that trouble, thankfully, has been avoided this year. Not a species I catch regularly, but two juveniles were ringed today (the brown tops to their legs giving their age away - adults have crayon red legs).

But as the breeding season is coming to an end, I am starting to see evidence of migration in the ringing results. Migrants need places to stop and refuel before continuing their journey. They might choose a site to stop at for the habitat and food they find there or simply because they are forced down by bad weather conditions. Either way, it's that time of year. The star bird of the day - and definitely a migrant was...

...this Lesser Whitethroat. It is a cracking bird in the hand. It stole star bird status away from the 2 Kingfishers, the Jay, 2 Magpies, Nuthatch, Willow Warbler and Goldcrest because it is the first of this species to be ringed at Sandy Smith Nature Reserve. The Magpies only made it onto the list because they were the 3rd and 4th to be ringed here - definitely coming to the feeders. On the last session, it was Ringer 1, Magpie 5. This time it was Ringer 2, Magpie 0 but I lost 3-5 on an aggregate score! Joking aside, that makes 3 this year - the only previous one came in 2012.

Another migrant was a juvenile Willow Warbler. The only other one I've caught this year was an adult undergoing moult (and presumably on migration too) back in June.

A juvenile Goldcrest, was the fourth of the year! This is a fairly short lived species because of their size and vulnerability in the winter to cold weather - so good winter survival and a good breeding season for this species too.

It is worth mentioning Nuthatches too - they are heard near my ringing area regularly at the moment (probably 2 yesterday) and with only 1 previous to this year in 2012 and 4 so far this year they would appear to be increasing in numbers. Hopefully some retrap data will provide some more knowledge about this species use of the reserve.

Kingfisher 2 (0)
Wren 2 (1)
Dunnock 3 (4)
Robin 4 (0)
Lesser Whitethroat 1 (0)
Blackcap 8 (0)
Chiffchaff 3 (0)
Willow Warbler 1 (0)
Goldcrest 1 (0)
Blue Tit 18 (14)
Great Tit 9 (32)
Nuthatch 0 (1) - this retrap increases the site longevity for this species from 8 to 13 days!
Jay 1 (0)
Magpie 2 (0)
Chaffinch 0 (4)

I was pooped by the time I got home, but it was a cracking adventure Gromit!

Monday, 7 July 2014

A year ago to the day...

... I was ringing at Sandy Smith Nature Reserve and caught 51 birds of 11 species. The standout birds were a single Jackdaw and 16 new Whitethroats.

Today (7th July 2014), I set about putting the same nets up in the same places (something I do almost every time I'm there). Today I ended up with 59 birds of 14 species as follows (retraps in brackets):

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (1)
Wren 4 (1)
Dunnock 2 (2)
Robin 1 (0)
Sedge Warbler 1 (0)
Whitethroat 1 (0)
Blackcap 9 (1)
Chiff 1 (0)
Goldcrest 1 (0)
Coal Tit 1 (0)
Blue Tit 2 (0)
Great Tit 7 (21)
Jackdaw 1 (0)
Chaffinch 1 (0)

The highlight one year later was, again, a Jackdaw - the last one I ringed was exactly a year ago today. Funny how things work out!

Above: An adult Jackdaw

Lacking in numbers so far this year (and today), at SSNR, are juvenile Whitethroats. Given the weather conditions have largely been good and food prey species numerous, I can only think that either I've missed them (they're around but just not today) or more likely the heavy rain in May didn't help the breeding success for first broods. The latter may also explain why there is a lack of juvenile Blue Tits around at the moment too as, for the first time at SSNR, Great Tits are far outnumbering Blue Tits. I did, however, catch a Coal Tit today...

Above: A juvenile Coal Tit (one of my favourite birds)

and a ...

Above: A juvenile Goldcrest

Of course, the point of ringing on this day exactly a year later, was because it is the anniversary of the passing of my dad. I wanted time to remember that day and to remember him and give myself some time to grieve a bit. It was a nice day, I got what I wanted and I was pleased with the Jackdaw (truth be told I was hoping to catch one today).

The sale of his house is almost complete. Contracts are exchanged and Thursday 10th July is down as completion day. On Saturday, I took my last things from his house, which included this poem from my childhood:

My Dog

I've got a dog as thin as a rail,
He's got fleas all over his tail;
Every time his tail goes flop,
The fleas at the bottom all jump to the top!

I can't tell you whether I came up with it myself or just copied it, but there's a dodgy drawing of a fat (not thin), out of proportion, dog with fleas jumping around the tail!

Yesterday was the Constant Effort Site ringing at Priory Country Park. Overall numbers seem to be picking up & are certainly better than last year. A new Green Woodpecker (my favourite) was a welcome addition and the oddities came in the form of 2 juvenile Magpies (a species not often caught in mist nets here).

Above: A juvenile Magpie

Finally, I had a bit of a red letter day last week at SSNR (1st July) when I caught 3 Jays. It's unusual to catch Jays here (2 singles have been ringed previously) but I think it may become more common as the surrounding vegetation & young alders become more mature. They may also be taking advantage of my feeding routine. I think I'll let them, don't you?!?

Above: A juvenile Jay. The fluffyness of the underparts being the giveaway to ageing this bird.

All the other Jays now ringed here (4 others) were all adults. The ringing tally was 71 birds ringed of 12 species. This included the first juvenile Reed Bunting to be ringed on site.

Now that the sale of my dad's house is completing, and everything is moved, I am hopeful of having more time to update this blog. Sorry if you've been checking it to find no updates. It's been a long hard slog this year and I now hope to turn my efforts into happier endeavours. But without doubt, that will include more ringing!