Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dawn to Dusk

Phew what a day!
Normally at our woodland site we have nets up for the evening roost of thrushes, hoping for Redwings, which this year we have seen few in the nets even though there are lots coming into the area to roost. So yesterday we decided to start before dawn in the hope of getting them as they leave the roost.
A crisp frosty site greeted us Brrrrrr.
Once the nets were up the kettle went on and we waited for dawn to break, from our advantage point we soon began seeing birds leaving the bushes and feeding on the Yew berries. Time to check the nets.
With a little help from an mp3 player by 9am we'd had 20 birds. Brilliant. The tape went off.
We then put the feeder nets up and and enjoyed a steady stream of birds all day including 2 new Nuthatch to add to our total of 10 for the site this year.
 A brief lull late afternoon and a cuppa in hand is always a chance to take note of birds coming and going, Buzzard, Raven, Jackdaws, Wood Pigeon, Crossbill. Six Crossbill alighted  in a Silver Birch tree for about 2 minutes before flying off, they are occasionally seen and heard around the site, and I live in hope of catching one, well today was the day. Checking the net nearest to some water I couldn't believe my eyes, not 1 but 4 birds in the net, 2 green and 2 red, I found it hard to contain my excitement and Nigel was speechless when I showed him what we had. After doing all the necessities they flew back into the birch tree breifly, before going on their way. The evening roost produced 10 more Redwing plus others.
What a great day. We ended with 56 new birds.
Wren 1 (1), Blue Tit 5 (4), Blackbird 2 (1), Bullfinch 1, Goldcrest 2 (1), Great Tit 3 (2), Nuthatch 2 (1), Robin 1 (1), Treecreeper 1, Coal Tit (2), Chaffinch 4, Redwing 30, Crossbill 4.

phone pic of 1cy male
shaky picture of adult male Crossbill

Friday, 22 November 2013

"What a Cracker" - an early Christmas present.

Nice day ringing at The Lodge today with the usual suspects from the feeders.

We also had a couple of nets up to catch any thurshes coming to feed on the Yew berries. When the Yew have been stripped of berries around Christmas the wood seems devoid of wintering thrushes.

Today, the Redwing numbers seemed to drop off around mid afternoon. Coming back from a round at about 14:30, Chris was positively brimming - three more Redwings. Except that one was very different. It was from the Icelandic/Faroes race T. iliacus coburni. I've posted photos below.

Redwings Charnwood 21.11.2013, Icelandic race on left. Photo Stuart Moffat

Icelandic race Redwing showing darker under-wing coverts 21.11.2013 Photo Stuart Moffat

Overall a more bulky bird with darker back and rump (biometrics were still in the overlap with nominate T. i. iliacus). The streaks on the breast and flanks were noticably darker, heavier and joined on the breast to make to smudge. Under wing coverts were also much darker that the nominate race.

The Icelandic race normally winters further west than the nominate race. Wintering in Scotland, Ireland and Western France. Presumably the strong northerly winds over the six weeks has taken it further off course.

Here are the new/retraps for the day.

Blue Tit 10/6, Great Tit 9/8, Coal Tit 1/9, Long-tailed Tit 1/0, Nuthatch 1/0, Goldcrest 2/0, Blackbird 4/0, Song Thrush 1/0 Redwing 11/0, Chaffinch 4/0.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

More from the roost

The weather cleared this afternoon but there was a decided chill in the air.
The long line of nets in the rhododendron tunnel were set early and we had others around the feeder and the raspberry bushes.
The air was full of bird sound and there was much activity so we were hopeful.

The roost materialized on cue. Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Brambling. Even a Nuthatch got in on the act.
This welcome list of birds was on top of the regulars from the other nets Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Robin, Tits in general but especially a number of Coal Tits which seems to have had a good breeding season at the Lodge.
A great afternoon topped off with calling Tawny Owls and Jays and Ravens coming in to roost late on in the big trees.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Ladybird catches the eye!

 A successful roost session at Charnwood Lodge resulted in a total of 55 birds, this first winter male Brambling being the highlight.
Another highlight was this Pine Ladybird,(Exochomus 4-pustulatus) that was found enjoying the October sunshine. They are black with 2-4 red dots and a rim around the edge of the wing case. I could not help wondering that who ever polishes them does a great job!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

PhD Research.

A Sand Martin flea, not to scale!
 The host.
 Hannah Wickenden of Oxford Brookes University is in the second year of her PhD. She is sampling Sand Martin fleas from colonies across the country. This sampling is carried out after the birds have finished breeding. There are two different Sand Martin fleas, one in the south and one in the north. There are also hybrids and Hannah is trying to find out if these species are populating new regions, perhaps as a response to climate change.
 Hi tech equipment used for taking nesting material and hopefully finding some fleas.
 Graham digging down to get to some of the nest chambers.
The adult Sand Martins excavate a surprisingly long tunnel.
Once we have finished the sampling the sand is replaced and the wall recapped in readiness for next year.
The two walls at Church Farm were well used this year. We managed to catch a total of 64 birds. This included 19 males and 17 females. One adult was unsexed. We also caught 27 juveniles, which demonstrates how successful the walls have been. We also caught one returning bird that we rung in July 2011.
Our thanks go to Hannah for sharing her knowledge with us and most of all to Graham for his boundless enthusiasm for nature conservation.
Mind you I was pleased to get home and have a shower!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Fair Isle.

 The Obs. A great place to stay.
 I had never seen Heligoland traps worked before. This one is located in a Geo.
 Inside the heligoland, like fern gully! A good place for tired birds to find shelter.
 The Plantation where a Yellow browed Warbler was caught.
 Twite were common.
 A Red Backed Shrike frequented the garden, no doubt feasting on tired migrants.
 One of the many YB Warblers, easily the most common warbler seen.
 The Garden, probably the largest area of scrub on the island. Viewable from the obs, a great place to sit and watch as many rarities turn up here. Two days after we left a Whites thrush was on the hill. No, I am not bitter, just don't mention it!!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Demo day at Charnwood Lodge

We had a great day at Charnwood Lodge on Saturday 21st September 2013. Although we have done them elsewhere this was our first ever ringing demonstration at the site. 'The Lodge' is not the easiest place to find so we were delighted to welcome a number of interested ones who made their way to our bunker in the woods. With the kind permission of the Wildlife Trust we have a dedicated ringing room in one of the old outbuildings. The main house was demolished many years ago but several buildings remain and that was the center of activities for the day.

With just four nets we caught around 100 birds ringing 88 new. A wide range from Goldcrests to Blackbirds and everything in between, Quite a few late Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were ringed along with the resident species. The day included several Bullfinch, Coal Tits, Treecreepers, Nuthatches and Long-tailed Tits supplementing the ubiquitous Great and Blue Tits.

Thanks to all who came also for your generous support.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


I should have gone ringing early Saturday morning but I went birding instead because conditions looked right for a good bird or two (mizzle, low cloud and falls of migrants all down the east coast). There were some decent birds around the county (skuas etc) but the best I could manage was a Hobby. Today it didn't feel anything like as 'rare' (warm, dry, only slightly overcast) but that didn't stop me catching one.

Rarity is of course a relative concept but sadly that label now fits the poor old Willow Tit. Poecile montanus has taken a hammering in the last few years and I haven't seen or heard one round these parts for ages, until this morning that is when I first of all heard that once familiar buzzing call and then found this little beauty in the bramble net ride.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Welcome appearance of juveniles

A few CES (constant effort site) reports have flagged up low levels of juvenile birds in the last sessions at a time when historically they should represent a high proportion of birds caught. It was quite encouraging therefore to get a nice range of juveniles earlier this week at the sewerage works. This is something of a Whitethroat stronghold and the catch included several recently fledged individuals like this one in very fresh plumage.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Early Moult?

 While ringing at Watermead  I was surprised to trap this adult male Willow warbler that was undergoing active moult. This seems early to me!
It is always nice to trap Lesser Whitethroat, possibly my favourite bird.
In the hand I thought it had a white crescent in the upper eye, although I am less certain when I look at this photo. It had very abraded PP and TF. The 5th TF had no white tip although it was abraded. It was a female with a BP of 2. Aged as a 4 , but I suspect it is a 5.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Terns and Sand Martins doing well.

 We managed to ring 24  Common Tern chicks at Watermead Country Park today. Using a bucket to keep the birds in prior to ringing was a great idea. Well done Chris!
 There is always one that is just too small. Hard to imagine that this petite package will  make its way to over winter off the west coast of Africa.
Another success was ringing 32 Sand Martins at Church Farm. 24 of these were newly fledged young.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

And then it cleared

I was away in Norfolk when a huge movement of Swifts occurred at the sewerage works. There are just a few times each year when sometimes thousands of birds congregate around the filter beds and even then only very occasionally when this coincides with safe access and calm drizzly conditions is it possible to make a catch. This past week afforded a couple of chances but only for a brief time. We manged to ring 29 House Martins 5 Swallows and 2 Swifts. All were healthy weights and apart for multiple flat flies on most individuals they all looked in good health too. As soon as the drizzle clears the birds fly higher and that's it.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Nest Recording and things

Spent a day on the reserve checking the progess of nests we are studying as part of the BTO's Nest Recording Scheme, which along with the Ringing Scheme is part of the Demography Unit (see First we checked on four Lapwing nests that we have been monitoring. At the first nest the female was still incubating. The eggs had hatched in the second nest a couple of days ago and today we managed to locate the three chicks. The final two nests had also hatched.

Lapwing chick 'hiding'.

Lapwing chicks at this age defend themselves from predators by hiding, which usually means putting their head under some vegetation and staying still, "if I can't see you then you can't see me".

One of the chicks ready for release. You can see mud on its' beak where it has been probing in the soil for food.

The chicks are quickly ringed and released, so that disturbance is kept to the minimum.

We then went off to see what other nests we could find for our project. We soon found, among others, a linnet, reed bunting and dunnock. We will keep track of how these nests progress and send in the data to the BTO at the end of the season.

Reed Bunting nest

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

In the reedbed

That got your attention didn't it? Not one of today's birds sadly but please read on .... Andy, Barry and I were in the reedbed from 6:00 am today and the weather forecast was spot on; cool with light breeze for the first half of the morning. The air was full of song but with a typically slow early season start we caught just 22 birds with 9 nets. A nice mix of Reed and Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings, assorted Tits and Thrushes. Some of the Reed Warblers have made the sub-Saharan round trip a few times now and it's always great to have them back. As long as we don't get a repeat of 'summer' 2012 things are looking promising. One unexpected delight yesterday was a Turtle Dove seen well by the rangers at the southern end. It's been a long time since I ringed one of those so forgive this indulgent reminiscence. Turtle Doves are in SERIOUS trouble having declined a frightening 93% since the 1970's. The RSPB and others are working hard to investigate the underlying cause. The current edition of 'Birds' has a feature piece on this very subject. Please visit

Monday, 13 May 2013

To check or not to check? Part 2

Seventeen days ago I checked my Tree Sparrow colony, so another visit was now due. I found 7 incomplete clutches and one with very young chicks, maybe a day old, the rest of the boxes were either empty or still at various stages of building.
The 2 boxes that had half built nests of moss now contained a sitting Blue Tit and Great Tit.
The woodland site had 14 boxes with incomplete clutches belonging to either Blue or Great Tits, the other 18 were empty, but i'm still hoping for a few late comers to take up residence.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Where are the Wheatears?

I keep checking my traditional 'Wheatear' spots every day and so far ..... nothing! This should be peak time for Greenland Wheatears but not so far this year in this part of the county. So, just to cheer myself up here's one I caught earlier!

Friday, 26 April 2013

To check or not to check?

Boxes that is.
 With the cold weather holding everything up this year I was beginning to wonder if nesting would ever start, but encouraged by seeing a Blue Tit in my garden taking nesting material somewhere (obviously not to one of my boxes) I thought it may be time to check some of the small boxes on our sites.
Starting with our Tree Sparrow colony, from 22 boxes there were 4 with 3/4 built nests and 5 with complete nests although not lined with feathers yet, good start, the rest were empty apart from 2 that contained half built nests of moss, so they belonged to either Great or Blue tits. Based on these findings I think I will leave checking our woodland site for another week.
 This recent run of good weather has obviously encouraged the birds to start nesting.
This time last year some of our Tree Sparrows had already hatched, so it looks like we're behind by about 3 weeks.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Grace Dieu today

Spent a nice few hours today with a net up at our Grace Dieu reserve.

Over the last few weeks there have been a steady flow of Siskins coming in to the feeders, I probably only see 2/3 on the feeders at a time but we have now reached a total of over 20 ringed in the last few weeks. Not a large number compared to  some parts of the country, but a nice species for the group to handle.

There are two large feeders with Niger seed and seven feeders with Black Sunflower. In this area Siskins are a fairly uncommon species, breeding was only proven when group member Andy Smith caught a female with a well formed brood patch a couple of years ago.

Male Siskin, courtesy of Neil Hagley

We catch the majority of our Siskins in the second half of the winter, mainly late February and March. There are definite "Siskin" years, this being a modest one. It coincides with the first half of the winter period seeing record numbers of Brambling being caught. I am not sure if the two are related. The previous record year for Siskins was 2003 when we had recoveries of Siskins ringed from as far afield as Eastern Germany and France as well as a modest number from the UK.

Here are todays totals, New Birds/Retraps

Blue Tit 1/0
Bullfinch 2/0
Chaffinch 5/0
Dunnock 0/1
Goldfinch 4/1
Greenfinch 7/0
Great Tit 1/0
Nuthatch 1/1
Robin 3/1
Siskin 5/1
Sparrowhawk 1/0

At one point I did catch a grey squirrel in the top shelf as it was jumping from one side of the net ride to the other. Luckily, it extracted itself without damage to the net or me!!

Snowdrops on the Grace Dieu reserve

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Field Day

I wasn't intending to catch any birds today (Saturday), snow, windy weather and all that, so I just kept the bird feeders topped up and stuck some apples in the Cotoneaster bush, and also placed some on the lawn where my whoosh net area is. Just an odd couple of Fieldfare now had been taking the last few berries from the bush, I've had up to 5, hence the apples in the hope of keeping them coming to the garden.
A break from doing some houshold chores (a womans work is never done, sob sob!) late afternoon saw me looking out the window onto the garden, checking what was about; low and behold I'd got Fieldfare coming to the apples in the whoosh area, eventually there were 12, blimey the most I've ever had in the garden at once! Sod's law I hadn't got the net set ( well I wasn't intending to catch any birds!) decisions, decisions, would they come back if I disturbed them? I risked the chance and quickly went and set the net and waited, within 5 minutes I had 10 birds back on the lawn settled and feeding, so I took the catch. Two escaped but I had 6 new birds and 2 retraps that I'd ringed on 28th Feb.
Having processed and released the birds I checked the weight of the two retraps from last time, the female first weighed 92.9g and today it was 85.6g, and the male first weighed 104.7g and today it was 97.4g so both had lost overall about 7 grammes since Feb.
The weight of the new birds caught ranged from 89.3g to 113.7g, this latter bird also had a wing length of 159mm which is 7mm longer than the average stated in Svensson it also felt alot 'chunkier' than the others so made me wonder if there is a small population that come to our shores in Winter from further afield than Scandinavia?
Answers on a postcard please.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Linnet flock and Redpoll - wear there's a will

The Linnet flock in the field next to me at Whetstone is incredible. At its peak in the snow it grew to over 250 birds and several weeks on it is still over 100. Through abrasion the males are looking the part as the breeding season approaches. What is abrasion? Visualize a pink feather with a buff tip. As the tip gets weathered and worn the buff browny bit is 'rubbed off' eventually getting down to the pink part. When hundreds of bland tips next to each other wear off the lovely carpet of colour below comes through. Lots of finches and buntings come in to breeding plumage the same way. That's how male Reed Buntings get their blackish heads and Redpolls get pink breasts. Male Redpoll. Nice transformation! Most of the pink feathers you can see had buff/white tips just a few weeks ago. These have since worn off revealing the pink below.

Monday, 28 January 2013

More Bramblings

Since our last post our outings have been very restricted by the poor weather, so we've only been at our winter roost site for a couple of visits since Xmas. Alot of the thrushes seem to have moved on but the Chaffinch are still roosting, but in smaller numbers, even so another 28 were added to the list including our second ever Control (Y777 anyone?), our first was back in 2005 and originated from Yorkshire. Each winter period we can ring up to 180 birds and since 1999 we've ringed a total of 1870 with just one Control and one Recovery, this bird was reported dead having hit a window 139km away in Poland 2yrs 98 days later; checkout the www.btoringing blogspot for March 2009 for more details. Also we were hoping for some more Bramblings but only managed 3, last year we ended on  17, so I hope there's still a few around by the time we get out again. We retrapped a Long-tailed Tit that turns out to be 3yrs old, last year we didn't catch any from this site at all which is quite worrying as we can have up to 50 over the winter period.
I was able to do a bit of ringing in my garden earlier in the month and caught 5 Brambling with other assorted species, and 2 Fieldfare and 2 Pied Wagtail  that were using the snow-cleared area of the lawn to feed on. Now the snow has gone so have the Fieldfare.