Sunday 28 September 2014

Birthday Barn Owls

Yesterday I enjoyed a brilliant day with family celebrating my 29th birthday (yes I know - it's the big one next year!) and late afternoon had a box full of surprises which topped the day off perfectly...

I was privileged to ring a very late brood of Barn Owls (on patch), and the bird pictured was one of the biggest! I was expecting to find two of three, but incredibly there were SIX huddled together in the box! I just hope it's not too many for this late in the season, really need the weather to remain decent for them.  It would be interesting to know if this was a second brood, or has followed on from a failed first brood or a late pairing.

Apologies for this blog being so quiet last week, have had my head buried in my laptop. However busy I am, now we have a dog pleasingly I HAVE to get out every morning. I walked Honey where ever I thought I might have seen some birds - most days this was Beer Head but I also went to Seaton Hole and Axe Cliff.  Monday and Tuesday last week were the best days, with Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Meadow Pipits all over Beer Head, and Tuesday also gave a group of six Spotted Flies.  Sadly nothing better though.

I did manage to squeeze in a visit to Black Hole Marsh last Monday and was amazed to see eight Ruff on the marsh which is an excellent count, the variation between the cute-faced dainty little females and the hulking great males is ridiculous!  Also saw two Little Stint with the Dunlin, and there were three here the following day.   

Friday 19 September 2014


Had a couple of ring recovery details come through last night - always nice to see. Neither that exciting, but one I found quite interesting.

The first is sad, as it concerns a cat kill on a female Blackbird I ringed on 14th July 2011 in Mum and Dad's garden. This bird was already at least two years old when I ringed it, so when it was taken by a cat on 13th July 2014 it was at least five years old. It hadn't gone far mind, in fact it was found less than 10m from where I ringed it!  Unlike my second...

A Blue Tit (a species that rarely give good recoveries as they often don't move much) I ringed in Mum and Dad's garden on 24th August 2011 as a bird of at least one year old, was re-caught at a nest box at Bucehayes, Stockland, Devon on 19th May 2014 by an A W G John. This is a gap of 999 days, and a distance of 15km. Not far in the grand schemes of things but really interesting that is was breeding here and not closer to Seaton which is what I would presume.  A good age too as if it's still going today it's at least four years old.

This year as you will have seen on this blog I have ringed a lot of long distance migrant birds, and I really hope I get some recoveries from these. Over the coming years I intend to ring a lot more migrant birds too, and want to add to the overall and ever changing picture of bird migration.

Willow Warbler  Beer Head 1st April 2014 - the first of 134 that I've ringed at Beer Head this year

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Beer Head

Since the last post I have managed two short ringing sessions on Beer Head, one with Peter on Wednesday 3rd and a couple of hours by myself on Monday 8th.

On the 3rd 28 birds were trapped and ringed, with 26 of these being 'new' birds. No stand out species, but it was mostly about Sylvia Warblers with ten new Blackcaps and three Whitethroats trapped, along with two already ringed Blackcaps.  The Blackcap re-captures were interesting as it shows I'm catching local breeding birds and not just passing migrants, with one of them being a male I ringed here back in May, and the other a young bird I first caught as a 3J (which means still in juvenile plumage - so almost certainly hatched on Beer Head) in the middle of August.

I will do on a post on Blackcap ageing one day in far more detail, but here's three head shots all showing first-year male Blackcaps, and the various extent of brown on the cap. The top bird had completed it's post juvenile moult, the middle and bottom birds were still in the process of their PJ moult, but they will probably retain some of those brown cap feathers even after their moult has finished.

3m Blackcaps

Other birds ringed included singles of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Goldcrest (the second ringed of the autumn), and a nice trio of Long-tailed Tits - my first ringed at this site.

In my last ringing related post I mentioned about the partial post juvenile moult in passerines, and that some species actually complete a full moult in their first autumn - replacing all their flight and tail feathers. Well Long-tailed Tit is one of those species, but all three of our birds could still be aged as first-year birds (3's) as they hadn't completed their moult yet.

They had replaced all of their primaries, although the last couple we still growing, but were only part the way through their tertial, secondary and greater covert moult. The browner and more worn juvenile feathers are pretty obvious to see, but hopefully the red lines will help. You can see a half grown secondary feather along the middle red line and the arrow is pointing to the replaced adult tertial feather. Compare the condition of replaced tertial with the older juvenile one above it - the old one has little nicks at the tip and along the edge of the feather, this is natural feather wear and a brand new feather wouldn't show this. If I was to catch these birds in maybe a week/ten days time I'm pretty sure they would have completed their moult, and would be aged as '2's' on plumage (the age code for haven't a clue - could have been born in any year).

Yesterday I caught just ten birds, but eight of these were migrants so I was still happy; three Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers and two Chiffchaffs.

I've been up Beer Head again this morning, but only for a quick dog walk.  There was a real late autumn feel to it, with crisp blue skies, a chill in the air, and heaps of Meadow Pipits flying about.  Also saw ten Wheatear, three Grey and two Yellow Wags, five Blackcap, three Whitethroat and a handful of Chiffchaffs. Sadly no Wrynecks.

Friday 5 September 2014

New Bird For The Patch

Well it all went a bit mad here yesterday!!

What was thought to be a Spotted Crake was seen yesterday morning from the Island Hide at Black Hole Marsh. For some stupid reason I decided not to go and see it as I have so much to do at the moment and we were treated to superb views of this species here last year.  Thankfully though Black Hole Supremo Sue Smith did, and on seeing it thought something wasn't quite right - pale stripes on the birds back, a pale face and front and she also thought the whole birds shape look wrong.  

It wasn't until it was approaching late morning that noises came out this bird may not be a Spotted Crake, at which point I shot down there. Sue, Phil and a few other were there, and we were soon joined by Dave H. There was no sign. Something that was there though was Sue's camera, and she showed us this distant photo (the conditions were dull and foggy when she took it)....

(c) Sue Smith

Sue was right - this was no Spotted Crake!!!!! Although not a clear shot, it does show a delicately shaped crake/rail with a pale breast and rich brown coloured upperparts. Well either that or a Reed Warbler!

I could only give it until midday then had to come away, still no sign.  Thankfully though Dave H sat it out, and whist munching on his BLT at about twenty past one there it was! And in exactly the same place it was seen this morning.  30 minutes later I was back down there and soon enough this beautiful bird appeared and performed really well for ten minutes, before I had to prematurely leave it for work. I love Crakes - they just look so rare. I don't love how elusive they can be though. Yesterday it showed well until about 15:25, but then was only seen for a ten minute spell from 18:00 and that was it. It is still there this morning though.

I'm pleased to say that all patch birders have seen it now (unlike that wretched Cuckoo!), even Gav dusted off the bins to add this bird to his patch list. Nice to see you again Gavo.  Hopefully Sue will put some of her photos from the afternoon views of the Crake on her blog, as she got some good ones in the end.  Long lense Tim got a few pics too, he's uploaded one on to his blog

For those who have not seen it yet, I hope this helps...

Hopefully will be able to blog again later today or this weekend, with details on a Wednesday morning Beer Head visit.

Monday 1 September 2014

Redstart Ageing

Yesterday sounded like a great day at Beer Head, with Phil noting 40+ Willow Warblers, four Whitethroats, three Spot Flies, three Tree Pipits, two Whinchats and a Reed Warbler. As a result I was eager to get up there this morning, especially as a veil of cloud had rolled over and even produced some pre-dawn drizzle. Perfect.

Sadly though in reality it was soon pretty obvious that most/all of  yesterdays birds had moved off - probably during the clear weather ahead of the front - and very little had dropped in to replace them. Saying that though we still ringed 23 birds from two mist nets, with two Dunnocks and a Wren being the only (presumed) resident birds.

The best of the captures was this lovely Redstart that appeared in front of us several hours after dawn, and flew straight into my 60 foot net...

There's more than enough visible in the above photo to age and sex this bird. What do you think it is? 

This photo should do it if the above didn't.  A bird with this much orange on its breast has to be a male, along with those black centred throat feathers.  You may notice though it's lacking a white forehead stripe, has a dull greyish brown crown, and the black throat feathers have broad white/off-white tips - well this makes it a first year bird.

And now I'm going to break with tradition for this blog and get a bit technical...

All juvenile passerines under go a post juvenile moult which starts not that long after fledging. Unlike adult complete moults, post juvenile moults are partial moults and include only a small numbers of wing feathers and only very rarely the main flight feathers (primaries and secondaries)*.  The wing feathers most often replaced during post juvenile moults are the greater coverts (GC's), with some birds replacing all of these, some replacing none, but most replacing a few. This gives ringers a very helpful ageing tool as in theory any passerine showing two different age classes of GC's is a year old or less. This moult limit will show in a bird until it undergo its first complete adult moult when ALL the GC's are replaced.  *Some species do a complete post juvenile moult (House Sparrow, Long-tailed Tit to name two), and some individuals of other species by some freak have been known to have complete post juvenile moults when they really shouldn't.

Anyway, here's the greater coverts of this mornings Redstart...

And here they are again with some red lines and words...

Notice how different they are. The new inners ones (the GC's are always moulted from the inside out) are rounder, almost blue in colour, grey edged with narrow brown tips, with the seven remaining juvenile GC's being dull with pale brown edges and tips.  They will stay this way for a little under a year, although as the feathers wear and fade it will become less obvious.  Now look at the first photo again and see if you can spot it on the closed wing.

Tails are also often big helpers in ageing passerines, with young birds tails often being pointed and more worn compared with rounded and newly grown adult ones.  This tail shape difference isn't so obvious in Redstarts, but look how abraded the tips are, plus I think the dull/dark tips and marks on some of the feathers is an age thing too and wouldn't be seen on an adult Redstart....

I think that's enough for today's lesson!

We also caught six Blackcap, six Robin, four Chiffchaff, two Whitethroat, one Willow Warbler and a Goldcrest.  Apart from a few large flocks of hirundines and the odd Yellow Wag, very little was flying over. Two Whinchats and a Wheatear were the only other grounded migrants I saw.

The weather looks good for the rest of the week, so I hope to fit in another ringing session at some point.