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.