27 Jun 2013

Growth bars amongst other things

Another sign that many of our commoner birds have suffered in the unsettled spring was this juvenile Great Tit caught in the garden showing growth bars in the tail. Many of the other juveniles are showing something similar but this was the most pronounced. Growth bars are like tree
rings - you can tell what's happening during the growth period by looking at the presence of the growth bars. During times of food stress the feathers don't grow as well as all the energy is put into keeping the vital organs supplied with food.  A lot of the juveniles are in poor condition with poor quality feathers although their fat scores are pretty good as they're stocking up on the food I'm providing.

Some good news on the juvenile front though. The local Goldfinches and Chaffinches have taken advantage of the spell of warm weather and have fledged young who are now flocking to the feeders. A pair of Robins have also successfully fledged at least one young nearby as I caught this little beauty as well.

Although the Magpie was caught predating the Robins nest in our front garden my daily attempts at keeping them at bay with a selection of stones has proved successful and the remaining eggs have hatched. The only problem is I've run out of gravel by the front door!

I spent a cracking evening up on the River Lune midweek with guys from the North (see here)Lancs Ringing Group ring Sandmartins as part of a long term study they are doing on adult survival rates. First bird  I was given to process had a French ringing scheme ring on! Their 3rd French control this year. I've never ringed at a Sandmartin colony before and was intrigued to learn that juveniles won't leave the natal colony until their wings have grown to at least a certain size and that once they move away they're regularly caught at other nearby colonies before doing the teenage thing and doing a grand tour of the UK before migrating to Africa. Sand martins are lovely little birds but one of the undoubted highlights of the night was watching a young otter at close range.

Heart breaking news from Harris though where a White-throated Needletail put on a fantastic display for a couple of days before colliding wit ha wind turbine and being picked up dead. We'd arranged to go for it today and there was a few disbelieving tweets and texts going around last night before the photographs of the bird in the hand were posted. The bird had survived a journey of thousands of miles to be killed by a supposedly green energy source.

23 Jun 2013

Summer seawatch!

A summer north westerly off Hilbre is sometimes productive for Storm Petrel so with other plans being cancelled due to inclement weather a change of focus was called for and plans duly made to go to Hilbre over the tide. Cheshire year lister Mark was to ill to join the trip last night but changed his tune this morning so I hung on for him with the ultimatum he had to be at mine no later than 08.15 otherwise we'd miss crossing before the tide cut us off.

It was slightly surreal bouncing across the beach between West Kirby and Little Eye in a force 7 -8 gale listening to the Beach Boys 'Surfing USA' on the radio. With this wind behind them any US east coast surfers could easily have ended up off Hilbre!

Arriving to find Degsy had already put the kettle on we piled on the layers before having a brew and battling the elements to the sea-watching hide. Opening the observation slits and surveying the maelstrom around us it soon became clear there were Manx Shearwaters everywhere!  We estimated 5000+ between 09.30 and 13.30.  With squally rain and high winds some were coming close in before being blown down the west side down the Dee Estuary.

Quite a few Gannets were also battling to try and get out of the Mersey and a few Kittiwakes were also picked up. Storm displaced Guillemots and Razorbills either hunkered down on the sea to sit it out or tried flying into the wind before getting blown back inshore. We counted at least 5 Fulmars heading the same direction and a distant Arctic Skua.

Small groups of Common Scoter were picked up out towards the wind farms and a few non-breeding Great-crested Grebes lingered but no Storm Petrels. Still, we can't complain. Probably the best ever Manx Shearwater passage I've seen off the N West coast and it provided Mark with four new birds for his Cheshire year list campaign.

Amongst all the excitement we had time for a quick fry up in the Obs and another brew before heading out for the final couple of hours. Apologies to Kenny for borrowing his mug........

20 Jun 2013

Little Owls

With Barry reporting a lot of activity at his Little Owl site and an inspection a couple of weeks ago finding the hen on eggs we took the opportunity to ring the youngsters recently.

Actually there was only one well fed youngster and one un-hatched egg! The first thing warm I pulled out of the hole was a dead juvenile rat! I hate rats!

The female Little Owl was also ringed and evidence of their hunting prowess was provided not only by the dead rats but the blood around her neck and bill.
Chris has installed some nest boxes on the farm and we took the opportunity to check on these and ring any pullus present.
As with other areas there seems to be a lack of nesting birds this year with only 2 of the boxes containing young.

John & I also went to check on the Swallows at his farm site where another brood was ringed and two adult Swallows were caught. We were pretty chuffed that the male was a re-trap from last year when I'd ringed it as an adult. This was the first time a returning bird had been caught on site although one bird was controlled In the Orange Free State and another juvenile, ringed in the nest as a pullus, was controlled later the same year at Leighton Moss RSPB.

Photo's courtesy Barry Barnacal & Steve Williams.

13 Jun 2013

N W Greenish Warbler

A cracking N W record today with a singing male Greenish Warbler found singing on Turton golf course near the Last Drop Inn, Bolton. With the torrential rain finally clearing late afternoon & Mark needing it as a lifer we arranged to meet on the M56 after work & to avoid the nightmare that is the M62 we drove north up the M6 & took the M65 before dropping south and missing Bolton altogether.

Steve & Scott had beaten us to it but, despite the winds, it wasn't long before the bird called and we had brief views before it disappeared. Steve &. I moved off to look in a different area of the small wooded clough and sure enough it flew past me and landed in front of Steve. Calling the few other birders present over I managed to fire off three shots before it disappeared back in to the canopy. A N W tick no less!

11 Jun 2013

June doldrums

Beautiful weather for barbecues and lazing around in the garden but not so good for birding locally. Migration seems to have fizzled out with the majority of our breeding birds back on territory and busy raising young in the fine weather.

A quick trip to Hilbre Saturday morning was eventful only due to Marc Hughes finding a female Subalpine Warbler on the Great Orme - the first record for the site and another one that narrowly missed us! Still, we had Linnets!

The prolonged sunny spell has meant the Hilbre flowers are in full bloom with Thrift and naturalised Wallflowers looking stunning in the bright light.

A commotion above me whilst in  the garden turned out to be a family party of Ravens soaring high over head being mobbed by the local Carrion Crows with a female Sparrowhawk enjoying the thermals and joining in the fun as well.

The local male Blackbird obviously has a mate on eggs nearby and is using our aerial as  song post. I'm not sure where they're nesting but its not far away as he's keeping very close to the garden.

Our Robin has sneakily laid another brood in the same nest that was predated a month or so ago and is now sitting on five eggs whilst a brood of 3 Blue Tit pulli were ringed in a box I'd checked a few weeks ago and found nothing. It was only because the parents became agitated when I was working around that side of the house that I realised they'd moved in. Standing back and waiting I eventually saw the parents flying in and heard the chicks calling.

7 Jun 2013

Mixed breeding success

Checked a few nests recently and ringed some pullus with John. Even though  they've had a late start the Swallows seem to be doing well with four nests on the farm Johns been monitoring for  few years. Two broods of 3/3 & 5/5 were ringed yesterday and the chicks were very fat and healthy. The recent spell of warm weather has been helping them a lot. One brood was to small to ring and another nest still had eggs. A pair of Pied Wagtails nesting in an inaccessible spot have fledged at least two young on the same farm. Sadly a nest of wrens were all found to have died which is a bit strange as they looked as if they'd only hatched a couple of days ago so it isn't weather related. The only conclusion is that something must have happened to one or both of the parent birds.

One Blue Tit has at least four young in my garden in a box I hadn't checked for a bout thre weeks. Sneaky little buggers. That's one nest in 8 boxes whereas last year there were 4 occupied boxes. Barry's garden is faring a little better but brood sizes are very small. One Blue Tit brood had one young ringed and one addled egg whilst a brood of 3/3 Great Tits ringed shows a very poor productivity.

My local Mistle Thrushes are obviously feeding young somewhere  - much later than this species usually nest!
A pair of Goldfinches are nesting in our laurel hedge and a pair of Blackbird's are feeding young nearby after deserting the nest in our garden before they'd even laid eggs!

The Jackdaws have resolutely refused to use the box I made for them and are still insisting on nesting in a neighbours chimney. The noisy sods woke me at 04.00 this morning have a scrap with the local Magpies who seem to spend their time searching out nests and destroying them. At least we don't have a squirrel problem any more.

Still the gardens looking nice after all the rain and now sunshine!