Monday, 28 April 2014

Number 100!

Enjoyed another ringing session up Beer Head this morning, with Peter again. Despite my first Tree Pipit of the year overhead, and a Yellow Wag, the bushes were quiet. As April turns to May this is to be expected to be honest, as the chance of a good fall decreases with each day that passes now.

Despite the fairly baron bushes, two nets gave us a light trickle of Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff and a few of the locals (Blackbird, Blue and Great Tit, etc).  I absolutely love ringing phylloscs, and the last Willow Warbler trapped and ringed today (a lovely grey male) was the 100th phylloscopus Warbler that's been trapped and ringed on Beer Head this spring.  85 Willow Warblers and 15 Chiffchaffs to be precise. And to celebrate, here's a nice comparison shot...

Willow Warbler at the front, Chiffchaff at the back.

I really hope some of these birds get retrapped elsewhere - I would love to know exactly where they are going.

This afternoon a look along the Estuary showed not much, but a Dark-bellied Brent Geese that flew in over the town before landing on the Estuary was a bit a surprise...

"where am I?"

Saturday, 26 April 2014

DIY Heroes!

The weather wasn't going to stop us making progress with the back garden today. Even promising sea watching weather couldn't tear me away. I was back out there at 8am, and Jess joined me for an hour or so. 

This is how it was looking mid morning...



Not long after taking this photo - Phil and Bun appeared!  Clearly they couldn't take endless updates about garden progress on my twitter feed! That and they're bloody nice blokes.  This is how it looked about an hour later...



Fully dismantled!

It just means we've got quite a lot of wood to deal with now.  My chainsaw can't really hack it - so if anyone wants any wood it's free to a good home.  You'll just need to collect it and remove a fair few screws and nails...

Friday, 25 April 2014

DIY

When Jess and I moved in to our lovely house in October 2012, this is how the back garden looked...



Over the summer, we put several pot plants out there, and a bird table, so it looked nicer and a bit loved. At the end of the day it was still a load of decking though.

On Wednesday of this week, this is how the back garden looked...



Pretty much the same!  But this is how it looked at the end of today...



We've wanted to do something with it from day one, and after a visit and some advice from Phil, we now know what we want to do. The project has begun.  

I hate DIY. I don't do DIY. Thankfully Jess knew long before buying a house with me this was the case, and accepts it, so actually in doing this I am getting brownie points by the lorry load! But with every panel I take up, I ask myself why we've not got people in doing it for us?  Well that's because we've got a wedding to pay for.

I did hear several Whimbrel whilst out there this morning, so all this physical out door labour does have its perks!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Beer Head Bird Binge!

The conditions looked really exciting for today. Not the clear skies and northerly wind that's been producing the goods of late, but lots of cloud and pre-dawn/dawn rain.  So, at 5:45 I met Peter again and we were soon setting up nets at Beer Head.

Yet again, all seemed quiet at first. Very quiet. One singing Willow Warbler and literally nothing else. Two nets were up, a 60 foot and a 40 foot, and when we looked at the 60 for the second time and saw a female Redstart and four Willow Warblers in it - we were quite simply stunned! Where on earth had they come from?  And this is how the rest of the morning went...

Unlike the last two sessions up here when it was obvious a fall was happening, throughout the whole morning we didn't see much at all in the bushes. Three other birders came by, and had a good look about Beer Head, and all reported seeing very little. I did hear a Grasshopper Warbler reel briefly mid morning, but aside a small number of Willow Warblers, the bushes appeared pretty much migrant-less!  That's not what the mist nets said though...

This was actually my most successfully ringing session up here to date, with the two nets producing 53 birds! 35 of these were Willow Warblers - many of which looked distinctively cold-toned...

Clearly a bird breeding a long way north of Devon!

We also ringed three Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps and two more female Redstarts.  Dad saw a third unringed female Redstart a little later too so there were at least three on site today.  

Overhead, Swallow passage picked up from mid morning with birds streaming north. Also had singles of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and House Martin over.

Finally, many thanks to Peter for the help, and Richard who had no idea his morning would turn out as it did!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Why Bother Going Out?

Beer Head aside, I enjoyed the best birding of last week from my house! One Devon A rarity, two Devon B rarities, a rare British breeding bird and more.

Last Friday, whilst I was at work, at Cattle Egret was discovered with the cattle on Colyford Common.  Once I'd finished work I didn't make a mad rush for it, as once upon a time this species could have been described as an almost regular visitor to our valley - but I was keen to see it from the house.  I thought I'd blown it when I heard the Cattle Egret flew off mid afternoon, but in the evening Phil re-found it on the east side of the river. So the scope was up and I waited and waited and waited.... Five Little Egrets came flying down the valley, with a sixth Egret a short distance behind - the Cattle Egret!  The six Egrets landed in the roost above Axmouth, and I watched the Cattle Egret find its spot in the trees before settling down.  What a mega house tick!

The next decent house bird came on Sunday, and was almost exactly the same as two Sundays previous (see here) - an Osprey!  I knew something was up before walking through the front door, as the gulls were calling, and several were clearly fleeing from the lower Estuary.  Straight in and upstairs, and over Colyford Common there was an Osprey circling.  It disappeared for about ten minutes before reappearing again low over the upper Estuary. Then, in about two minutes and only about five large soars, it was suddenly a dot in the sky miles high. It pulled in its wings then powered north.  Wow.

Later on Sunday, after hearing a Barn Owl was seen not too far from the house, I was on dusk duty with the telescope from the bedroom window.  I didn't think for a second I'd get lucky, but soon had a few brief flight views, and then a Barn Owl perched up for two minutes! Wahoooo...

Tuesday afternoon dinner in the back garden gave me my first House Martins of the year. Two spent about an hour feeding and calling low over. My favourite hirrundine, and about a week later than usual.

Wednesday afternoon, again whilst having lunch in the back garden, at about 12:40 the Estuary gulls got me on my first house Red Kite circling high over the upper Estuary, although it soon headed off east.  It was always distant, but that didn't stop me grabbing what is truly a record shot...



I have been out birding. If I'm not up Beer Head or at work, I've gone for a walk around Black Hole and Colyford Marsh after breakfast. I've had a single singing Reed Warbler (still no Sedge), one Whimbrel, one Greenshank (on two days) and a couple of Wheatears. Yes, I have now seen a grand total of three Wheatears this year!

I made a good call about when to re-visit Beer Head for ringing this week, I picked Thursday morning.  This time I invited Peter, a trainee from Budleigh...

Peter ringing a Willow Warbler. Note the simnel cake to the side - well it is Easter...

Like Monday, it felt at first like it was a very VERY quiet, but also like Monday, birds started to appear about half an hour after dawn. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs mostly, but also saw a respectable total of four Redstarts, two males together and two different females.  Two single Yellow Wagtails over were my first of the year.

So what did we catch? Well there were fewer phyllosc about, as we trapped and ringed 13 using the same net set up and in the same time frame as Monday when I caught 30. It was still pretty impressive though that each time we did a net round, at least one new phyllosc was there, and we didn't re-trap a single one.  Of the 13, eight were Willows and five Chiffs.

Although there were less phylloscs in the net, the Redstart count was double that of Monday's session.  The first was a stunning adult female, a really colourful bird and what an eye-ring...



And then another male...



It's such a drag ringing such fantastic birds with stunning views like this...


Monday, 14 April 2014

Beer Head

Wow - what a morning!

I was going to be writing a post today about the additions to my house list during the last week, but that will have to roll over to another day after this mornings excitement!

For us, common migrant wise it's been a very slow and poor start to the spring, with no species appearing in good numbers yet except Chiffchaffs.  Last weekend, and Friday, I couldn't do any ringing up Beer Head, and was convinced I was going to miss a good day. Amazingly I didn't (although Phil did have a Pied Fly up here on Sunday).  This morning was my first free morning for almost a week, so I was up at 5am, and headed up there with my nets and poles....

I really wasn't expecting much. The conditions were probably as bad as they could get for grounding migrants.  All night it was a cloud-less clear starry sky, with an almost full moon and next to no wind.  Clear skies are ok with a northerly wind, in fact this combination can produce superb falls, but when there's southerly or no winds, we need cloud.  There was a very light NW wind at dawn, which did pick up a little mid morning, this must have been what caused this mornings rush of birds!

Would never have guessed this weather could have produced what it did!

It was an odd fall, as even as I was setting up the nets just before sunrise all seemed quiet - just a couple of singing Willow Warblers.  The first net round was also was not that promising, a single Wren in the bottom shelf being the only bird.  About 15 minutes later though, as I was taking the first migrant of the day out of a net - a Willow Warbler - a Redstart flew over my head. And that's when it went a bit mental for a few hours!  

Willow Warblers were soon everywhere, with birds constantly singing and on the move around me.  I saw at least three male Redstarts (one often singing), and Ian P saw two more on the other side of Beer Head. Dad arrived with a group at 8am, and was greeted with another first for the year, a singing Whitethroat.  I was mist netting on Beer Head amidst a fall of birds! Dreamy!!

I only had two nets up, small ones too. This 30 footer...


And this 40 foot net...



I have to say, the nets were very visible in the sun light. I saw several birds flying towards them, but turning back or flicking over the top/around the side at the last moment. Despite this though, these two nets did me proud, with 35 birds trapped and ringed by the time I closed them at 11:30.  

Out of the 35 birds, 30 were phylloscs - 26 Willow Warblers and 4 Chiffchaffs.  Of the 26 Wills, 22 were males (1 female and 3 unsexed), showing varying amounts of fat. Some real fatties, but I also had a few (especially towards late morning) that had very little fat on them. They were clearly moving through quickly as I didn't retrap a single one!  With the numbers I caught, and what I saw/heard, I would estimate at least 70 Willow Warblers came through where I was ringing. Well over a hundred must have been present on the whole headland I'm sure, probably many more if you think how vast the underhooken is.

The five other birds ringed included single Chaffinch, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Wren and...

 


A bloody Redstart! This was the very same Redstart that flew over me early doors. After flying over me, it flitted along a hedgerow and dropped straight into my other mist net!

He's a young male, born last year, and had very little fat stored so could well be hanging around for a bit.  I've ringed autumn juv Redstarts before, but never seen a spring male in the hand. What a bird, so full of character.

My biggest gripe of the day is that as the conditions were so unexciting, I didn't bother asking any of the local trainees to join me. Really wish I did now - sorry chaps.

Just shows, when it comes to spring birding, however much we think we know, you just never know...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Mixed Feelings...

Well let's get the painful bit out the way first. 

Just before 13:00 last Friday I glanced at Birdguides and saw a truly shocking message about a Great-spotted Cuckoo at Branscombe! WTF!!!!!  Almost at the same time, a tweet came through from Josh at Birdguides saying roughly the same thing. I immediately texted the news out to all, put my dinner in a picnic box, and headed straight over to Branscombe.

I had an hour before having to get back for work, Ian M and Bun were soon there too, and we spent this time checking the slopes. No sign. I was pretty sure it was just a fly-through.

Six minutes before I started work at 3pm, a phone call from Bun who was walking back over Beer Head... "I've got it". The rest is history.  I do have a slight hope that it is still about, its been thick fog up Beer Head since. As soon as the weather clears I'll be out looking I can promise you.

Despite how badly this episode went for me, I would like to thank so many people for trying to help me get to this patch mega. Bun was a total legend, staying with the Cuckoo for hours and hours. And to Mark and Kev for giving me updates as to what it was doing, especially towards the end of the day, and James M for virtually planning my route there. Many thanks all, your efforts may not have got me to see the bird (yet!), but they meant an awful lot.

And now, time to move on...

Friday actually started off exceptionally for me, ironically up Beer Head, with my mist nets.  There were no new migrants about, just singles of singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap that had been there a while. Ian M was up there too, and also saw no migrants.

I had caught a few Linnets, Greenfinches and Dunnocks. And then out of nowhere, a stunning female Firecrest!!

.

So already, only on my second session, mist netting on Beer Head is showing birds that we hadn't seen in the field. What a delicate beaut she was too, weighing only 5.4 grams. Half an hour later I caught the lingering singing Chiffchaff, which was three grams heavier!  

I am so excited about the bird ringing potential up here. And I can't believe it has already given me the opportunity to handle and ring my favourite bird.

In non-ringing news, I have still not seen a Wheatear. I have seen Sandwich Tern now though, with two off the sea front on Thursday evening. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Beer Head

I was up nice and early for Beer Head this morning. What a fine morning it was too...

Low cloud and fog coming out of the Axe Valley, with Axe Cliff showing above it
 
This wasn't any old visit to Beer Head though, this was my first visit with mist nets and bird bags!  Yes, thanks to the generosity of the land owner, a small part of Beer Head is now my new ringing site! Such an exciting venture for me, as this is our Portland Bill. No it doesn't get the numbers Portland does, and will never have the amount of nets, but it is one of our best spots for migrant birds. I am very excited about what I might ring here, and what it will show us. Just how many birds use Beer Head? 

It will never be the busiest ringing site, but over time I'm very hopeful.  It's the kind of ringing site that could go from being super productive one day, to absolutely pants the next, but that's the nature of bird migration - I've just got to keep plugging away.

This morning I had a very encouraging start. I only put one net up, and I only ringed five birds, but three of them were Willow Warblers!  I know this doesn't sound encouraging at all, but walking around, the bushes, fence lines and fields were dead quiet, and except for a couple of singing Chiffchaffs and one or two Willow Warblers singing at dawn, there wasn't a migrant in sight. So to catch three Willow Warblers when I didn't even see one in the field, well, just how many will I catch when there are Willow Warblers everywhere?? Roll on the next four weeks of spring.....

My first Willow Warbler of 2014

Not only were the weather conditions wrong for grounding migrants, they were far from perfect for mist netting too, as an easterly breeze soon picked up and the unbroken sunshine glinted off the nets.

Stay tuned for more Beer Head bird ringing updates....