Saturday 23 February 2013

Garden ringing and a tick...

Another few hours' ringing in the garden this morning gave me a new ringing tick (bit of tart's tick if I'm honest) in the form of a beautiful male siskin. There have been small numbers around the garden for a couple of weeks now, mixing in with a sizeable flock of goldfinches. I've seen siskins on the peanut feeders and wondered when one would find its way into the net. After a usual mix of blue tits, blackbird and goldfinches I finally got my hands on one of these incredibly attractive little finches.

What struck me immediately was their small size - noticeably a size smaller that a goldfinch - and the brightness of the plumage. This really is a superb looking bird. The tail is very short, giving it a very characteristic jizz.

Sexing was easy - clearly a male due to the blackish cap (fringed grey) and the bright lemon-yellow throughout. Ageing was relatively straightforward too - all greater coverts were of one age and the tail was fresh - all characteristics of an adult bird, not one born in 2012.

Friday 8 June 2012

New baby...

At last, we have a new arrival. Our newts have bred! After keeping a few Marbled newts Triturus marmoratus for several years, they have finally managed to produce offspring - well, a single eft - but it's all rather exciting. 

Our new arrival
An injection of new blood in the form of three adults led quickly to some interesting breeding behaviour. With the arrival of females the single male newt rapidly gained his full breeding attire and began dancing away at every opportunity: shadowing the female and frequently whipping his tail in her face. I thought that I spotted some eggs on one occasion but as nothing happened thereafter I assumed that nothing would come of it.

Adult Marbled newt
However, last week I peered into the tank and saw this tiny silver thread swimming around - a baby! Over the following week it has grown into a really rather attractive beast, with fluffy gills and a spotted tail. I have added some more water plants so it can take refuge from the ever-hungry adults. Here's hoping for a successful outcome...

Thursday 7 June 2012

More garden quality...

My second ringing session of the Bank Holiday weekend (in amongst the rain and wind) turned up more quality. Having retreated to the kitchen after checking the nets, I was sitting down to a cup of tea when I heard an almighty noise coming from the garden - I knew exactly what it was....great spotted woodpecker! Sure enough, there he was, looking mightily unhappy at being denied a go at the peanut feeder. As is the case with this species, the feet were in a terrible tangle and it took me some time to extract the bird: the constant screaming most likely woke up everyone in a 200m radius.

Anyway, once safely in the hand I could take a proper look at this cracking bird. The red nape clearly identified it as a male - I had to refer to the ringing guide for ageing techniques. Essentially, as with most bird species it is the presence of feathers of different generations which assists in ageing - in this case, the mix of older, dull and brownish primary coverts amid new glossy black ones led me to age the bird as a 5 - i.e. fledged last year. 

The next few net checks turned up a trickle of blue tits - there are plenty of tits around at the moment and I suspect that several local broods are on the wing for the first time. In amongst this usual fare I had my second ever nuthatch - another piece of quality.

On taking the bird from the net, I was struck by the difference in bill length to the male I trapped previously - the bill was much less robust and I initially wondered if this was a young bird. However, on closer examination the bird had a well-developed brood patch and so was confidently sexed as a female and, given the evidence of breeding, therefore must have been fledged in 2011 or before. Given that I have now ringed a male and female, I suspect that this is the local pair which are likely nesting in the taller trees to the south of the garden.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Productive long weekend...

With a long weekend and a good few days off work to boot, I have been taking every opportunity to get the net up in the garden and, given the terrible weather, two days' ringing have produced some quality birds in my little patch of England.

Bright and early Saturday morning, and what do I find in the bottom panel of the net? A kestrel of all things! I guess it must have been chasing some small bird through the garden and blundered into the net - kestrels are around the village but I've never seen one actually in or over my garden before. I think I was as surprised as it was! After some careful handling I managed to get the bird safely out of the net and into a bird bag without losing any blood...

Needless to say, kestrel is not a bird I am overly familiar with handling in the garden - I have ringed several broods of young birds over the years, but not for some time now. Still, with the Baker guide in hand, I soon set about sexing and ageing the bird. The grey head and chestnut mantle obviously meant this was a male bird, and a combination of tail and flank feather colouration and patterning told me this was a mature adult - hatched in 2010 or previously - i.e. EURING age 6.

So, a cracking if unexpected start to the weekend's ringing session...the remainder of the morning was filled with the usual but still interesting mix of blue tits, chaffinch and greenfinch and, perhaps best of all for me, a nuthatch - my first garden ringing tick.

Nuthatches are such a good-looking bird - the combination of lead blue, chestnut, black and white plumage and that robust, awl-shaped bill gives them a very neat appearance - nuthatches really are one of my favourite groups. Anyway, it was great to finally be able to see one in such close detail - the rich brick-red undertail coverts and flanks made this bird a clear male.

Sunday 26 February 2012

More garden ringing...

Another weekend at home and so another opportunity to set the net in the garden. It's been so mild and sunny that it really looks as though spring is springing. I'd been putting out apples all week and hoped that this may attract a few thrushes or something else - sure enough, I have noticed a lovely male Blackcap in the garden all week - would I be able to catch him?

Saturday morning was a little disappointing, with only three birds caught in total. However, one of these was a lovely male Goldcrest, aged as a 2nd year bird by the shape of the tail feathers and as a male by the presence of orange colouration in the crown feathers. I have these diminutive birds in the garden all year round and I strongly suspect that they nest in a tall fir tree in the garden - they've been singing away all week.

Male Goldcrest

Male Blackcap
Sunday morning (net still up as I write this) is slightly more productive - after a stand-off for most of the morning, Mr Blackcap finally met his match and flew into the net - a small price for a week's worth of apples! This bird was aged as an adult due to the broad and rounded shape of the tail feathers and the absence of any moult limit in the wings. The black crown clearly identifies the bird as male.
Male Greenfinch

Female Greenfinch

A late flurry of action resulted in a lovely pair of Greenfinches, a male bird which I couldn't conclusively age (no moult limit and an inconclusively-shaped tail) and a 2nd year female.

Monday 20 February 2012

Woodcock day roost...?

Whilst out on a site visit this morning in the north of Hampshire, I was tramping my way down a bank on the edge of a lightly-wooded stream channel when I flushed a Eurasian woodcock. As usual, the bird was well-away before I realised what it was, flying off to presumably settle down somewhere else on the site. The bird had clearly been resting (or feeding) up amongst deep leaf litter and soft streamside mud beneath a large oak tree - the ground was a dense carpet of oak leaves. Just out of curiosity I had a closer look at the spot where it flushed from and was surprised to see a little oval patch of bare soil, roughly woodcock-shaped, and with a fresh bird dropping at one (presumably the tail) end.

It struck me that I must be looking at a day roost or scrape which the bird had made whilst it spent the daylight hours in this tucked-away corner of Hampshire. I have done a little web-based research and can find no mention of such a feature. Do woodcock 'make' day scrapes??  I guess not many people consider paying attention to where a flushed woodcock came from and glance up for a fleeting glimpse of the bird's backside...

Apologies - stupid Blogger seems to prevent image rotation - this image should be rotated 90 degrees right...

Sunday 19 February 2012

And again...

As it's the weekend and the weather is fine I thought I'd leave the net furled overnight and open it up again this morning. Very cold this morning thanks to clear skies (amazing night sky though) and a less fruitful day in the end - perhaps this new net-shaped change in their environment has spooked the resident birds?

You easily forget what a stunning little bird a Blue tit can be...
The same goes for the Robin too
A total of six birds so far - a wren, a robin, a dunnock, two blue tits and a great tit. Have now stuck some old apples on the trees to try and tempt some thrushes in, although there is a noticeable lack of either fieldfare or redwing in the village. On the up side, the village house sparrows seems to be spreading and I have seen them venturing down this end of the street for the first time since living here. The local nuthatches also seem to be very active - their calls have been a constant background today, as have those of the very vocal great spotted woodpeckers.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Ringing again...

After a self-imposed break of several years I have at last started ringing again. Yesterday evening I set up a single 12m net behind the apple tree in the back garden, adjacent to the feeders which I've been filling for the last few weeks. Arising at dawn (after little sleep due to a feverish baby) I unfurled the net and awaited a trickle of birds.

Over a couple of hours I had a standard selection of typical garden fare - 2 blackbirds, three greenfinch, two blue tits, a coal tit, a dunnock, a robin and a great tit. 11 birds in all and I suppose not too bad for a relaxed morning at home. The expected pheasants, collared doves and woodpigeons failed to materialise which was a result.

My ageing skills are rusty to say the least but generally speaking I had little trouble with these birds. The only 'tricky' thing was the robin - I could find no obvious moult limit on the greater coverts, all being the same tone and shape. However, there were five small pale wedges to the outermost coverts. After checking with Messrs Svensson, Jenni and Winkler it appears that full adult birds can, and do, show several pale wedges to the greater coverts. The key is that these diminish in size towards the body, rather than forming a neat break. This feature, coupled with a dark interior to the upper mandible, broad and rounded tail feathers and a dark brownish eye led me to age the bird as an adult.

Monday 31 October 2011

A Natter with Barb

After a somewhat hectic year or so I now have a small person living in my house who tends to shit a lot and cry, and who seems to need me to do just about everything for him. In these circumstances, blog entries tend to go out the window...

Still, of late I have been involved in some interesting work which has enabled me to get to handle some rather splendid bats. Being a licensed bat worker, I am often needed to attend development sites during the stripping of roofs in order to recover any roosting bats found. In the last month I have been working on a lovely historic barn in the north of Hampshire for which we had a Natural England European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence in place.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the following chap sheltering beneath a roof tile...

Western Barbastelle

I also recovered several roosting Natterer's bats Myotis nattereri from beneath ridge tiles.


Thursday 27 January 2011

Tenerife - December 2010

A brief stay on Tenerife, early December 2010...

Probably the best bird in the world...
Managed to get a week's holiday on Tenerife in early December, but only just thanks to a combination of severe snow and striking Spaniards. It wasn't really a birding trip although naturally I did manage to persuade my wife to let me drive to some hopeful spots...

Accommodation was courtesy of Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey who let us stay in a fantastic room in his family business on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. A very useful location - great for getting out and about and for walking to town for food and booze.

The weather for the week was variable, but mostly poor - frequent rain and always thick mist rolling in to shroud the views. However, as Tenerife is not (too) massive you can always drive to the sunshine!
Canary flock at Punta Hidalgo
We deliberately visited the more remote locations, generally at extremities of the island, in the hope of avoiding any tourists - and we certainly did not want to go anywhere near the Christianos/Americas area, or Shameless-by-the-Sea as it is known.
Bolle's pigeon
Most dramatic area by far was the Anaga peninsular, a verdant region of impressive peaks covered with misty laurel forest dripping with bryophytes. It is here that the most untouched remnants of the once widespread pristine forest can be found and, of course, their characteristic bird species. Any time spent walking within the forest will turn up the endemic forms of Chaffinch and Goldcrest, as well as Blackbird, Blackcap and the ubiquitous Canary Islands Chiffchaff. The two endemic pigeons, Bolle's and Laurel, are much trickier but time spent at suitable viewpoints is well worth it and likley to result in at least in-flight views.

The other end of the island, within Teno Natural Park, is just as stunning and again supports good quality laurel forest as well fayal-brezal, a distinct vegetation zone dominated by Myrica faya and Erica arborea. The approach road to the lighthouse at Teno is a tad hairy, but just ignore the 'road closed' signs and plough on. This is a good spot to view coveys of Barbary partridge.

The star bird of Tenerife, indeed the entire archipelago, is of course the Blue chaffinch and this chunky bird is found solely within forests of Canary pine. Thanks to the constant mist on the west coast, the prime location of Las Lajas was not great for good views - the birds were there but looking a bit bedraggled. A better spot by far was La Caldera picnic spot, where you can see both Common and Blue feeding together as well as Goldcrest, Blue tit and Grey wagtail.
Berthelot's pipit at Punta Hidalgo

tintillon Common chaffinch at La Caldera

Sardinian warbler at Tejina

superbus Robin, Anaga

An underwatched spot is Punta Hidalgo, situated on the north-east coast near Tejina. This area of tamarisk scrub, euphorbias and abandoned plantations is a real migrant trap and is home to large flocks of Canary - several hundred were present, alongside a wintering Black redstart. The rocky shoreline here also held Whimbrel, Grey plover, Ringed plover and Turnstone.

Eduardo and I took a couple of trips down south to the various migrant hotspots - Amarillo Golf, Ten-Bel and El Fraile - and managed to turn up a wintering Golden plover, Gadwall and an unidentified Aythya duck plus species such as Barbary falcon, Kestrel, Berthelot's pipit, Hoopoe, Little egret, Spoonbill, Common sandpiper, Greenshank, Coot and Moorhen. Ten-Bel holds the usual mix of weird exotics such as Ring-necked and Monk parakeets.

A few hours spent wandering around Tejina pools and other nearby reservoirs turned up several Common snipe, Greenshank, Teal, Laughing dove, Sardinian warbler and a Waxbill.

A short trip to the lagoon, La Mareta, at El Medano turned up Teal, Sanderling, Common sandpiper and Dunlin.