Sunday, 12 December 2010

Silent assassin.

It was a real privilege to catch this male Sparrowhawk at Charnwood Lodge this weekend. I took the opportunity to take some photos and then started playing with the cropping. I think the eye photos demonstrate just how well this raptor can keep both his eyes firmly targeted on his victim. The odd brown secondary and bright yellow eye confirm this as a second winter male.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Brrrrrrr it's Cold

With only a sprinkling of snow compared to other parts of the country we braved the cold to continue with our roost ringing. With 8 nets up we were kept busy all afternoon, not even having time to make a cuppa to warm ourselves up. We ended with 48 new birds and 30 retraps. Of the few tits we checked for fat some were carrying large amounts, up to 50ESP in some cases. Interestingly most of the Chaffinch caught were males with only 2 females among them.
Totals. Retraps in ( )

Chaffinch 20
Great Tit 11 (13)
Blue Tit 1 (7)
Long-tailed Tit (1)
Wren 4 (1)
Coal Tit 1 (4) with one from 2007
Robin (1)
Blackbird 3 (3) with one from 2007
Redwing 4
Song Thrush 1
Nuthatch 2

Monday, 22 November 2010

Male Cetti's.

The Watermead reed bed was a dank and misty place on Saturday morning as I set five nets, hoping perhaps to catch a Bearded Tit. Thinking positively was not having much affect as all I was catching were Blue and Long Tailed tits. Still, at least I was discovering what was in the reed bed and that Reedlings were not here yet. I live in hope. Then I was rewarded with this fine male Cetti's. I was able to sex it on size, it weighed 15.2 gms, females only reach 12.5 gms. Also the wing was 61 mm, which is at the extreme upper limit for a female. The female that I caught back in September had a wing of 58 and only weighed 12 gms. Having been ringing at Watermead for 12 years and never having caught a Cetti's, these captures are good evidence that they are increasing. All thanks to great management by Dale and his team.

Monday, 15 November 2010

More Lesser Redpolls.

Another 12 Lesser Redpoll were caught at Thornton at the weekend. This brings the autumn total to 35. Two adults were identified by their more rounded tail feathers. There was also a smart adult male with more extensive red on the breast feathers. Redpolls migrate to the south east at this time of year and there are many recoveries from Belgium. I have also recently had a control of a male Blackcap that I rung as an adult on the 22nd May 2004 at Thornton. It was retrapped in September at Dairsie, Fife, by the Tay Ringing group. It was an adult when I trapped it so it is at least 7 years old.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Lesser Redpolls?

Over the last few days I have managed to catch 16 Lesser Redpolls at Thornton. Most have been young birds, with well worn and pointed tail feathers. One was an adult female and the tail feathers were more rounded and less worn. All the wing lengths have been in the range 67 to 72, apart from one first winter male that had a wing length of 76. This puts it in the range of Common Redpoll or flammea. I regret not taking more photos of this bird, although it did not appear very different to the other Redpolls.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Good Day Had.

Sunday 26th.
With the weather holding out we managed to get into the woods and put some nets up. The feeding stations looked busy and we were not dissapointed. It was a late afternoon start, as we planned to stay 'till it was dark to see if anything was beginning to come into the roost area. From the first net round things were busy as the feeder nets produced plenty of tits, nuthatch and treecreepers. The second round produced just as many as the first,(no time for a cuppa), but a nice surprise was a male Siskin still in moult, the first of the autumn. A last net round as darkness fell produced a nice Song Thrush and chaffinch, which is what we were expecting, albeit in larger numbers. Hopefully it should build up over the coming weeks, all in all 79 birds, 57 new and 22 retraps.
Wren 1
Dunnock (1)
Robin (1)
Song Thrush 1
Goldcrest 3 (1)
Long-tailed Tit 1
Coal Tit 9 (4)
Blue Tit 15 (4)
Great Tit 18 (8)
Nuthatch 1 (2)
Treecreeper 3 (1)
Chaffinch 4
Siskin 1

Saturday, 18 September 2010


An early start at the reed bed at Watermead found me struggeling to put up nets with increasingly cold hands. My target was to catch 7 more Reed Warblers and reach 100 for the summer. By the end of the morning I had only 3 more Reed Warblers and this left me on 97, tantalisingly close to my goal. However, I was not disheartened, because on the first net round I had at last trapped a Cetti,s Warbler.

This species is increasing in the county, no doubt thanks to the management of areas such as Watermead country park. I was confident that I had identified the species correctly and the 10 tail feathers was confirmation of this. The under tail coverts are brown and fringed white, as can be seen in the photo.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

More Warblers at Watermead!

Another session at Watermead produced some more Reed Warblers which brings the year total to 92. I am determined to break the ton, so hopefully some will linger into September. Other species caught included Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a juv. Great Spotted Woodpecker. The photo shows the odd red feather on the nape which indicates a male.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Colour ringed Reed Warbler at Watermead.

Ringing at Watermead on 31st July was going quietly with only 27 birds caught. This did however include new Reed Warblers, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. Then as I was approaching a net a bird flew in that seemed very colourful. On extracting the bird I noted it was an adult Reed Warbler, adorned with pink and white colour rings. I processed the bird and noted all the details, especially the fact that the colour rings were on the left leg, with two pink above one white. The metal ring was on the right leg. I have now contacted the B.T.O. and they have informed me that the bird was likely to have been rung by Brandon Ringing group. I am now awaiting confirmation of this. The ring used was of a recent sequence so it is likely that the bird was rung earlier in the year and then relocated to WCP. It had a brood patch score of 4 ,which would indicate recent breeding.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Didn't they do well

We had a short session at the Sewerage works this morning with just TWO nets but still managed 60 birds. Almost all of them were juveniles, which adds weight to the conclusion that the 2010 breeding season has been a very successful one for many species. One of the few adults was this Grasshopper Warbler, a bird we very rarely get to photograph in broad daylight.
Todays catch included a remarkable 24 juvenile Whitethroats.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The French connection!

A good days ringing at Watermead produced a total of 64 birds. This included 17 Sand Martins, one of which had a French ring. We caught 20 Reed warblers, which brings the site total for the year to 66. We also caught 8 Whitethroat, 4 Garden Warblers and 4 Blackcaps.

French fancy

We were mixing and matching at Watermead this morning. Within 200m of each other are the now full blown reed-bed and the artificial Sand Martin bank. We ran the two sites side by side and together they produced a great mix of summer migrants. Reports suggest that 2010 is shaping up to be a bumper breeding season for many species. Our catch profile today looked good on that count but it did include some old friends like several Reed Warblers who have been back and forth to Africa a number of times. Highlight of the morning was French ringed Sand Martin bearing a Paris Museum ring. We are now regularly controlling foreign ringed Sand Martins at this prolific site.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Back for another year, the garden Wood Pigeons have nested in the Wisteria and the little squabs were ready for ringing this morning. The parents are coming periodically to feed but also to brood them, especially important in today's cooler breezier weather.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

More Willows

Nigel and I had a late afternoon session at our summer site yesterday, the conditions weren't the best - sunshine and breezy but all in all we didn't do too bad, with 28 new birds and 4 retraps. We first checked an owl box that we knew had 2 Stock Dove eggs in it at the last visit and found 2 ringable chicks. At the site there was still plenty of birds singing so we felt hopefull. Each net round contained Willow Warblers 15 in all, with 7 adults showing various stages of moult and 8 juveniles. At one stage I thought we were never going to get a juvenlie Garden Warbler but we had 3, and an adult female.
Over the 3 visits we've made to this area, so far we have ringed 30 Willow Warblers,our previous best for the whole area has been 7, with only 5 last year.

Stock Dove 2 pulli

Blue Tit 3
Willow Warbler 13 (2)
Great Tit 5 (2)from a brood of 7 pulli ringed 31/05/10
Garden Warbler 4
Wren 1
Blackcap 1
Treecreeper 1

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

More Owlers than Robert Green

Just thought I'd start a new game, the corniest World Cup word plays ever!
Last night, forfeiting the excitement of Italy v Paraguay, 6 'Owlers' set off in to the shire to ring Little Owls. Paul and Daz of 'Owls About That' blogspot fame have spent hours and hours finding and recording nest sites and what a good job they've done. In the space of a couple of hours we visited only 5 of them and ringed 16 birds, 1 adult and 15 chicks. Here's just one chick from a recently erected box site in south Leics.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Nest Record Scheme Course

A couple of weeks ago Chris and I spent an enjoyable weekend at The Nunnery in Thetford on a Nest Recording Course run by the NRS of the BTO. The weekend started on the Friday evening with the usual welcomes and an excellent presentation by Carl Barimore (NRS Organiser). This was followed by an delicious meal at the Black Horse, which gave the course participants time to meet and exchange experiences. The following day started at 7.00 meeting in the Nunnery car park, we then ventured to the Nunnery Nature Reserve to try and find nest of species like Linnet, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and others. After a break for breakfast we went into Thetford Forest to find woodland birds' nests. Most of the day was spent in the field nest finding.

The following day (Sunday) followed a similar pattern. We were soon fully au fait with such devilish techniques as 'tapping off' and 'watching back'.

All in all as a team we managed to find 21 nests that had not been found previously which, I believe, is a record for the courses that have been running since 2008.

For anyone that is interested in Nest Recording then one of the BTO organised courses is a must. Not only does it introduce you to new ways of finding nests, but it also introduces you to other like minded people that it would be nice to keep in touch with.

Special thanks must be given to Dave Leech, Carl Barimore, Lee Barber and Mike Toms for making the course such a success.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Snake in the grass

An absolutely beautiful morning at Watermead started with 4 Grass Snakes warming up in a traditional spot and it just got better. We ringed 32 birds of 11 species including this lovely male Bullfinch.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Warblers at Watermead.

An early start at the Watermead reed bed was rewarded with 6 species of warbler today. Two Sedge and three Reed Warblers were caught along with 2 Willow, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Garden Warbler and a Blackcap. A very young recently fledged Robin was also caught.
On Thursday evening a final attempt at Heron ringing resulted in 5 pullus being rung. It does not seem to have been a good year for the Heron colony with most nests only having 2 young. Better news was the 2 Tawny Owl chicks rung at Thornton.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Warblers a plenty

We had our first session on Sunday at our 'Summer' site and was greeted with plenty of birdsong from Chiffs, Blackcap, Willow Warblers and Garden Warblers. So our expectations were high. Over the few short hours we were there 17 new birds were ringed, and one retrap from November last year. As an added bonus we also found a Willow Warbler nest with 7 eggs in it, maybe belonging to the female we caught. This will be visited again in due course, as we also take part in the Nest Recording Scheme. Totals are
Robin 2
Blackcap 1 male
Garden Warbler 5, (3 females Bp 1,2)
Willow Warbler 6 (5 males, 1 female BP3)
Chiffchaff 1
Long tailed Tit 2 (1)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Ringing at Watermead.

The first ringing session at the reed bed at Watermead resulted in 6 Chiffchaffs, 1 Blackcap and 2 Reedbuntings. There was no sign of any Reed or Sedge warblers, but they will be with us soon. It was nice to see 2 Grassnakes basking in the April sunshine.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Quack Quack

If a situation presents itself you've got to at least give it a go.
This is what I thought when a pair of Mallard started coming to my pond last week, at least twice daily. They looked as if they'd made it 'home'. So my whoosh was reassembled and a bit of duck food put out for good measure. At first they were a bit cautious but they soon got used to seeing the whoosh set.
Well on Sunday, I eventually managed to get the Female and today I got the Male.
For my efforts it left me with a present all down my jumper! but never mind eh, it'll wash.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


A brief ringing session this morning at Thornton resulted in a male and female Blackcap and a Chiffchaff being caught. The latter had been rung as a juvenile last July and has returned to its natal area. It is always pleasing when birds return to the area in which they were reared. This demonstrates a continuity and that the area fits their requirements.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Typical March

Not much happened yesterday at The Lodge. A bit quiet, with most of the winter visitors having left and the summer warblers not yet arrived.

The roost produced a couple of Chaffinches with long wings - males of 90mm or above - which may be continental birds. Interestingly these were the birds with the highest fat score of 40 -50 on the ESF scale, which is high for a site in our geographical position. So these birds may well have been getting into condition for the journey back to the breeding grounds.

One of the retrap Great Tits caught was originally ringed at the site in December 2006, and caught each winter since, but always before Christmas. This is the first time that it has been caught in the spring. Sometimes you think that the more you ring then the more questions you ask.

In total we caught 20 birds of which only 5 were retraps. Here are the totals:-

Blackbird 2
Song Thrush 1
Great Tit 0 (2)
Dunnock 1
Chaffinch 7 (1)
Long Tailed Tit 2 (1)
Goldcrest 1 (1)
Wren 1

Thursday, 11 March 2010

.... as I was saying and Bruce Almighty

Today Chris and I decided to have half a day ringing at our Blackbrook site, where the Tree Sparrow colony is situated. The weather was cold with the sun breaking out later in the afternoon. Steve and Mandy had told us that Yellowhammers were coming into the Partridge feeders. and before long we had a couple in the nets.

Male Yellowhammer

Like the Chaffinches in the previous blog, Yellowhammers obtain the breeding plumage by the action of abrasion of the feathers. The brown tips gradually wear away to reveal the bright yellow of the feather.

Female Yellowhammer

Like a lot of birds the female of the species is duller, this helps camouflage them while breeding.

We also caught a first year (age code 5) male Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was unusually incredibly quiet, but with cracking markings.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

When Mandy returned from feeding the Pheasants, she let Bruce the Springer Spaniel (and father of two of my dogs) out of the farmhouse. He promptly decided to wee in Chris's ringing box, not a bit was spilt outside the box. We just have to teach him to put the lid down afterwards and he will be a real "Renaissance Man". Hence he's called "Bruce Almighty".

We ended up with a total of 45 new birds (no retraps):-

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Yellowhammer 6
Tree Sparrow 6
Blue Tit 13
Great Tit 3
Dunnock 6
Robin 2
Blackbird 4
Chaffinch 3
Greenfinch 1

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Worth the wait

We started at our usual Saturday afternoon ringing site on Charnwood Forest at about 1.30pm. The feeders hadn't been filled as our seed supply had run out and in any case we would be moving from this site for the summer in a couple of weeks and didn't want to leave seed in the ringing lab for the mice to eat over the summer.

So no feeders no birds. I thought I would take some photos while we waited for the roost to develop. This is the old Stable Block and our ringing lab is the door and window below the upstairs window.

The Old Stable Block, Charnwood Lodge

I say ringing lab with tongue in cheek, what else do we call it? It's not a hut - far too grand!

At this time of year there are a lot of semi-wild Snowdrops around the site. These will be followed by an equally impressive display of primroses and finally the woodland floor will be covered with bluebells.


Finally, after nearly four hours and only four birds, a Blue Tit, Dunnock, Long Tailed Tit and a retrap Great Tit, but plenty of tea and walnut cake, the Chaffinches started to fly over and come into the roost. Here is a photo of the start of the main roost ride between stands of Rhododendron.

Roost net ride.

Chris went round for the first batch of Chaffinches from the roost only to bring back two Brambling as well. A male and a female, both first years (age 5).

Male Brambling

You can see from this photo one of the strategies some male finches and buntings use to aquire breeding plumage. Instead of having to go through the trauma of a moult , the new head feathers when moulted in late summer and early autumn have brown/grey tips to them. As the feathers abraid during the winter the tips wear and the underlying colour shows through, Black on Brambling and Reed Bunting, Yellow on Yellowhammer and Blue on Chaffinches. Of course the females are subject to the same degree of moult, but the underlying are colours are not so contrasting.

Female Brambling

So, in the end, it turned out quite a good session with a total of 30 birds ringed, (of 10 species), with 16 new Chaffinches, the 2 Bramblings, 3 Blackbirds (one female had the startings of a brood patch - code 1) and a Song Thrush.

So it was worth the wait.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

.........and then it rained !!!!

Another afternoon at the Lodge to ring around the feeders and finish off with the Chaffinch roost at dusk. The feeders brought in the usual tits, with a pair of Great Tits that were ringed as pulli from the same brood in 2009. So at least 2 of the brood of 8 chicks have survived the winter so far.

We also caught two new adult (6) Treecreepers, one of which is shown below. Ageing Treecreepers has always been tricky, when I started ringing in the '70s all treecreepers after they had undergone the moult were aged as 2 (fully grown, hatching year unknown). Not until relatively recently has it been discovered that the size of the spot at the end of the 3rd primary covert can indicate the age of the bird. A small spot, as in the photo, would be an adult. A larger tear drop shaped spot would indicate a first year bird (3 or 5).

Adult treecreeper showing small spot on 3rd pc.

The weather was showery most of the afternoon until dusk when the heavens opened. Luckily we had just finished getting the last birds from the roost and quickly furled the nets while we processed the remaining birds in the ringing lab. In the end we caught 48 birds of which 30 were new birds. The roost produced 16 new and 3 retrap chaffinches together with a song thrush and a couple of blackbirds. Four of the male chaffinches had long wings of 90mm and above. I have heard it said that birds with wings over 90mm can be assumed to be wintering birds from the continent, although I have not read any papers on this.

We finally went home wet and cold and Chris kindly offered to put the nets in her airing cupboard to dry out for next weeks excursion.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


We were able to get a session in Roost ringing yesterday afternoon, the first since 23rd Jan and was very successful with 58 birds caught. 30 new birds included 19 Chaffinch, a Nuthatch and a Goldcrest. The Chaffinch were carrying good amounts of fat and weighed between 19g and 24g.
Among the retraps we had 2 Coal Tit and a Great Tit that were all first ringed in 2004.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Nice Jay at the Lodge

A pretty good roost session at Charnwood Lodge with 35 new birds including 2 Brambling, 1 Redwing and 25 Chaffinch. We don't catch Jays very often but they really are quite stunning. One of the ageing features is to compare the lovely black on blue 'barcodes', adults basically look 'regular' (like this one) first year birds look as if they've been shuffled.
It was also encouraging to catch some Goldcrests and find that despite the recent extreme weather their weights were 'normal'.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The worst may be over?

Further to the Fieldfare catches, it's good to know that the average weights of Chris's birds was close to 100 grams (although the sample size was small). Compare that with Portland where birds evidently forced out by cold weather averaged 96.3g on the 7th January and 92.4g on the 8th. BWP indicates that exhausted, moribund and birds killed by cold weather weigh in the 50's to low 60's so if the worst is over, birds that have managed to hold their own should now survive.
I was pleasantly surprised earlier today to hear and then see two Goldcrest in a small ivy clad clump who were there before the snow and I feared had succumbed but must have been able to feed and get some protection from excessive heat loss.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Ringing totals 2009

Chris has been doing a great job with our data and has just produced our totals for 2009. CLICK FOR TOTALS
Although we have largely suspended ringing activities until the extreme weather passes Chris has made some selective catches of the well fed birds in her garden including a few Fieldfare.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Cold weather movement Shawell to Spain.

Just had confirmation that a colour ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull which was at Shawell last week when the weather closed in is now on a beach at Coruna in northern Spain! (there's a lesson there somewhere).
The day after I saw that bird another LBBG, a third winter, which had previously wintered in Spain was also at Shawell no doubt regretting the decision to spend this one in the UK.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Too cold to ring .... what to do? .....

.... go and find some colour ringed birds that's what.
A couple of days this week I've combined Gull watching at Shawell with reading colour rings. Until the freeze ends I've decided not to ring so birds can concentrate fully on feeding. In the meantime frozen water is a great attraction for gulls and when they stand in full view colour rings are easier to read. I've already had a German ringed Mediterranean Gull (see pic), 3 Lesser Black-backs and 2 Herring Gulls. One of the LBBG's ringed in Gloucestershire has previously wintered in Spain, I bet he/she is regretting staying in the UK this winter! Another LBBG ringed in 2004 was seen all over the place but then disappeared for 2 years until yesterday. Here's just one life history. I think it likes junk food:-
Lesser Black-backed Gull
FH21367 N 10 Ringed 22/11/08 SGD Stoke Orchard landfill site, Gloucestershire. 51.56N 02.06W
S 12 Sighted 07/02/09 RC Stubbers Green, Aldridge, West Midlands (77 km, N, 77 days)
O 12 Sighted 12/11/09 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 355 days)
O 12 Sighted 17/11/09 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 360 days)
O 12 Sighted 05/12/09 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 1 yr 13days)
O 12 Sighted 10/12/09 JDS Grundons landfill site, Gloucestershire (2 km, N, 1 yr 18days)
O 12 Sighted 03/01/10 PFS Throckmorton landfill site, Worcestershire (22 km, N, 1 yr 42days)
S 12 Sighted 07/01/10 SH Shawell landfill site, Leicestershire (82 km, NE, 1 yr 46days)

Saturday, 2 January 2010

First birds of 2010 (2)

Andy beat me to it but I also managed to get out today. First visit to the sewage works but there were contractors on site trying to sort out frozen valves etc and I was getting in the way so only a few Pied Wagtails to show for it. Some years ago when I first started with Pied Wags, Chris Mead was kind enough to give me some pointers. I remember to this day that he said, 'make the most of January as the early spring moult messes up what you thought you knew'. What he meant by that is that in just a few weeks time birds start pre-breeding moult and it's all change. For now it's easy to spot 1st year birds (age code 5) as in the lower image where the two outer brownish original juvenile greater coverts (the ones the bird fledged with back in summer 2009) clearly contrast with the blacker, white edged coverts it replaced the inner ones with in the early autumn. This is what ringers refer to as a 'moult limit' and is frequently used to age birds. There are other things to see such as one 'new' tertial etc but that's enough ringer speak for now.

First ringing for 2010

A 2 hour session on the rough produced 22 birds of 8 species. 4 Blabi, 8 Housp, 2 Goldf, 1 Chaff and 1 Grefi were the highlights. Must organise a whoosh net so that I can bag me some garden gulls. I have had a reply from John Wells for the colour ringed B.H. Gull that I found at Thornton. It was rung in 2009 at Cotswold water park and was last recorded in Wiltshire.