Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I'd better do some Ringing!

My blogs gone completely off track recently, I’ve blabbing on about birding far too much recently. To rectify this I had a couple of hours ringing at Abbotsbury yesterday morning. Weather forecast was decent with good cloud cover at dawn, so a few migrants were hopefully going to jump into a net. This certainly was the case as Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff made up a majority of a 30 bird catch. The Willow Warblers were my first of the year which shows how much proper birding I’ve been doing recently!

A nice surprise was this Treecreeper which was actually a re-trap from last autumn.

As the morning wore on, the nets were getting quieter so between rounds I saw these.
A 1st winter (or should that now be summer?) female Scaup with a slightly Lesser Scaup look about its head but that bill doesn’t look good for that. Those bloody swans at Abbotsbury always have to get in the way of a good picture!

These Sandwich Terns were making a racket in the background. Notice the one of the right is ringed.

This was quite a sad sight. This Red-throated Diver has managed to get fishing line stuck on it. The bird was constantly preening, trying to get the line off it.

Annoyingly the winds getting up over the next few days but April should be a good month at Abbotsbury. The two photo’s below show the two ringing rides at the Swannery which will undoubtedly be where most of the birds over the next few weeks will be caught.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Marsh harrier Madness

Just before I went away to Wales for a week I pitched an idea about Marsh harrier age and moult. Marsh Harriers have bred in Weymouth since 2009 when a pair settled at Radipole. At the time it seems these birds caused a little confusion regarding age of the birds and also their sex! This sounds a bit crazy given the amount of time people spent watching them but speaking to different birders in the area, nobody seems to agree on anything. I replied to message correcting a mistake made by a local birder. The male from last year is breeding again this year but it was called a 2nd calendar year bird. This clearly can’t be the case. Easy mistake to make though, as calendar years catch quite a few people out. In the same message I thought I’d post a few ideas with regards to this bird’s plumage. A well respected local birder seemed to think it was a perfectly good theory, so I thought it would make an interesting discussion. Sadly, the topic went a little off topic and deteriorated rapidly. Though a few did have worth while things to say.

This is our current male who’s spending quite a bit of time at Radipole at present. I suggested the theory that this bird could be a ‘dark morph’ male Marsh harrier. At the time of posting I hadn’t had a particularly good view of the bird and just remember this bird as being completely dark on the back from good views through the winter. The concept of a dark morph bird was completely dismissed by local birders nobody could find any literature on this. As Marsh Harriers are quite a new thing to me I consulted a few ‘experts’ to find sensible answers to a few questions. After spending countless hours at Lodmoor last year I am really interested in finding out more about this superb species. I had a response from Gerd Heinze who’s a German expert on Marsh harriers. I also had a response from Javier Blasco-Zumeta who has a super website . They confirmed that there can indeed be dark male Marsh Harriers and it did cross their minds when looking at this bird. In the end they both concluded that this is within the individual variation of a 3rd calendar year male in spring. This is the opinion of several local birder though it’s a shame that proper discussions can’t be had via internet forums to discuss things sensibly. From the emails exchanged over the last few days I’ve learnt a lot of about Marsh Harrier aging and have found it fascinating as any ringer/birder would. After all, ringers spend most of their time aging birds and looking at moult, sticking a ring on a leg is the easy part!
 Here’s some more shots showing the very slight hint of grey in the primary coverts, though its very subtle and is very much influenced by the light. However the tail is but more obviously pale and slightly grey. Will be interesting to see how he turns out this autumn.

The bird below is the female that’s showing different generations of feathers in the wing. It think 'we' are considering this bird to be an adult. Three age groups can be recognised in female Marsh harriers, Juv, 2nd year winter/3rd year spring and Adult. Like I've implied before, I am no expert on Marsh harrier aging so if you think this isn't an adult please say!

It’s truly amazing to see these birds in the middle of Weymouth. Saturday’s views were particularly incredible as they were in full display and even grasping talons. I really can’t get enough of these birds!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Back to Normality...

I’ve had some funny conversations over the past week or so. Birders in Wales often say how lucky I am living in Dorset because of the all the rarities and interesting species on offer. But a Dorset birder this afternoon said he’d give his left arm (not literally) to be in Wales watching Goshawks and Kites. Today was my first day back in Weymouth and was greeted to the sound of Chiffchaffs singing in the garden. The sound of Crossbills and siskin flying overhead were notable by their absence and Goshawks certainly weren’t on the cards.
Late morning a very excited Nick (the Radipole warden) came rushing into the office to tell us about Kingfishers which had been seen by a visiting birder to be excavating a nest hole near our Sand Martin bank! Not a bad thing to happen on your first day back at work after holidays!

Rubbish picture but it shows what’s going on!
I’ve been a bit slack since my last post so I need to catch up a little. If you remember a post a from the 16th March when I wrote about the wildlife value of coniferous woodland. I’ve since had a meeting with Blaenau Gwent Council, Forestry Commission and Coed Cymru regarding their plans for forestry in the area. It seem the Welsh Assembly Government are intending to try to revert large areas of commercial plantation back to its original habitats such as ancient woodland or peat bog. If this was to happen species which have featured heavily in this blog over the last week or two would suffer enormously. In particular our Long-eared Owl population which is purely dependant on pine woodland adjacent to open habitats. Good conversations were had and hopefully some goods come out of it.
I’ve also visited the forest of dean which is where I started my career with the RSPB. Didn’t get chance to see Peregrines at Symonds Yat but did see plenty of these.

A couple of these

And a few more Goshawk which you can clearly see flying over that green tree near to that bit of blue sky.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Accipiter Action

To most birders the sight of a Goshawk circling over some woodland is a very welcome sight, and indeed it was for me yesterday when I had nice views of a male circling over some local coniferous forest. It soon dawned on me however, that the woodland isn’t particularly larch and with it being purely coniferous, prey item might not be as abundant as somewhere like the forest of dean where squirrels are everywhere. In the same woodland there are nesting Long-eared Owl, a pair of kestrels and in the past I’ve had Merlin breeding there. It will be very interesting to see how the breeding populations fair with a new pair of Goshawk in residences.

Sadly I didn’t take these pictures yesterday, they are from when I was working at Symonds Yat for the RSPB where we used to see Gos pretty much everyday. It was an amazing 6 months; we completely forgot about the famous Peregrines and just watched Goshawks chasing anything that moved!

Thought I’d stick a couple of other pics I’ve managed over the last 2 days.

This male Crossbill was enjoying the buds of this tree.

Skylarks have been a major feature over the last week, they are singing everywhere!

and finally Raven, these are very common in the south Wales valleys, a nature reserve about 2 miles south of where I am currently typing hold a large flock of non breeders. In the past there has been nearly 40 birds there!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Crossbills and Conifers

I’ll start with conifers as I think they are more exciting. They cause quite a few problems in the world of conservation as they tend to be non native species such as Norway and Sitka spruce or Larch. Wales in covered in large blocks of this homogonous habitat which is harvested from time to time to supply us with our lovely pine furniture. It gets a lot of bad press as they don’t look as nice as broad leaved trees such as Oak and Beech (but not sycamore!!!) and they aren’t of the same value to Wildlife.  I remember when Blaenau Gwent Council was writing its Biodiversity action plan which is some every council in the UK has to do and I was trying quite hard to get a plan for coniferous woodland. Most of the more unusual species that are found in the county live in these woodlands. Siskin and Goldcrest breed in the larger trees, Redpolls in the smaller one plus Goshawks and in wider Wales even Honey Buzzard nest relatively successfully in them. When the trees are felled they them provide great habo for Nightjars. Another bird which is pretty fond of Conifers is the Crossbill.

Spent yesterday afternoon trying to get some pics of them at a local forest and came across quite a few. Crossbills have been quite a feature during the last week or so. I would expect most of them to be feeding chicks at present so any sign of nearby nest would have resulted in no photo’s as they are a schedule 1 species. The group I came across however was seemingly just a feeding party so a few snaps later I left them get on with scoffing their little silly beaks with seeds.

After my long walk this afternoon I was pleased to get a text suggesting a  few beers out at one my old local pub, the King. Its probably the only pub in Ebbw Vale that serves decent real ale and this is probably my all time favourite. The Reverend James!

from left to right, Gary, me and Richard enjoy a pint of 'rev'. Thought I'd better post this given that the landlord Paul went to the trouble of taking it.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sunset Shorties

My first welsh post from Saturday was entitled 'Welsh birder in Wales part 1' so this should really be called part two but that would be a bit boring so have opted to cancel the sequel and go for a different title. Short-eared Owls have long been a favourite of mine and used to be fortunate to live not far from here.

This is Waunafon Bog near Bleanavon, its nothing special to look at but for some reason its a Short-eared Owls delight. I will at this point apologies to any non-welsh readers for the strange place names, my spell check is going nuts! Back to the owls, for at least the past 5 winters up to five Short-eared Owls have made this their winter home and they have provided incredible views for a large number of birders. Views aren't quite so easy these days as barriers have been placed across the road that leads to the bog which means you have to walk. Wales is often a but chilly in winter which is probably why there hasn't been any reports of owls at the site for a few months. Despite no recent reports of Owls I went along and hung around for a while and two these eventually showed. Its nice to catch up with old friends!

It's also worth mention a walk I went on yesturday, I decided given the amount of Great Grey Shrikes in south Wales to try to find one myself. Didn't see any despite walking about 9 miles covering 5 different clearings but did see plenty of Siskin and Redpoll both in full song, a pair of Crossbill, 2 Goshawk one of which was thinking about displaying and a single Red Kite.

The Story of Rhyd-y-blew

This site is one of the places that really got me into birding but to look at it now you would wonder why the hell it would inspire me. The sites a perfect example of how authorities can ruin a brilliant place for wildlife.

This site used to be home to nearly 50 pairs of Lapwing and they were relatively successful making them the second largest colony in Wales. This was until the local authority and the Welsh development agency decided to level it ready for some factories to be built on it. As you may have noticed from the above picture there ain’t a factory on it!

Even though Lapwing doesn’t breed there anymore other species have taken up residence. Most of these were found a 2 years ago when the local council wanted to turn it into a temporary car park for the Eisteddfod. The wildlife had only just started to recover from the last disaster, so several members of the local biodiversity group spent hours surveying to find something that would stop this development. Again, as you can clearly see from the picture that it isn’t a car park, so what did we find?

Reptile and amphibians were the main things plus a few nice birdies such as breeding Grasshopper Warbler, Reed bunting, Stonechat and I even got a spring Sedge Warbler there (probably should point out that these are rare in this area!). Butterflies were also well represented with the pick of the bunch being Dingy Skipper. So even though the site is rubbish for pewits it’s now very good for some Wildlife as least. I must also mention that the RSPB were heavily involved back when it was first ‘developed’ and have been ever since and have had a Lapwing officer employed for a few year to help with the recovery of Lapwing in the area and its working, well… a bit. A mitigation site was created a few years ago and I been there this morning and so far during my visit to Wales this is the only place I’ve seen displaying lapwing.

Really apologies for the wordiness of the post but it really is an interesting story (to me at least!). Plus it shows that with a little determination you can actually stop local councils doing what ever they want.

Just thought that I should also spell the name of this site phonetically for you folks down south. Read e blew.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Welsh birder in Wales, Part 1

Got back to Wales yesterday afternoon after a very uneventful journey up. Last night I couldn't wait to get out and explore a few old haunts. Last night I visited a local site to listen for Long-eared Owl which I did successfully and this morning I was straight back out to have a go at ringing Siskins at my uncles Garden in Ebbw Vale. Numbers were about the 40 mark but have decreased over the last week or two but in spite of this I have managed at present to catch 11.

As well as Siskin I've also had plenty of Great and Blue tit and something which was quite unexpected, a Lesser Redpoll! 

There's been a Brambling about which has some how avoided the net which is very frustrating but I am in Wales for probably another week so plenty of time!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Where's this Spoonbill from?

Just got back from having a peak at a pair of Spoonbills which turned up lunchtime at Radipole. We went straight up to the hide where they flew off as soon as we arrived. I was told that one was ringed which isn't that unusual with Spoonbills. This bird had a yellow ring on the left leg with FJ9 inscribed in it. I can't track it down from which is usually really helpful so any suggestions would be very useful!

Its alway quite strange photographing things at Radipole often you end up with a load of houses in the back ground which is what happened when trying to get some flight shots of the spoonies up at the North hide on Radipole.

Sand Martins are back in Town

Yesterday saw my first Sand Martins of the year which was a very welcome surprise as for what ever reason they had fallen off my radar. The intention was to go and photography a stunning drake Pintail which has been at Radipole for a couple of days but got distracted by some of these little critters feeding over the reserve.

The bloody pintail decided to stay half a mile away but the Sand Martins more than made up for that. A good selection of waders kept the interest going in work yesterday as Green Sandpiper, Black tailed Godwits including a really bright bird which was presumably of the icelandica race. Also I count 82 snipe in one spread out flock which included the Long-billed Dowitcher. Sadly it not quite as obliging as the last time it was at Radipole so this is a picture from when it was outside the visitor centre.

I will hopefully be travelling up to Wales tomorrow where siskin and redpoll are on the ringing menu so fingers crossed for some decent weather!

Friday, 4 March 2011

What to blog about??

Steve and myself planned this afternoon to start cutting back the withy bed at Abbotsbury Swannery ready for the spring and autumn migration ringing. It got a bit out of control last year and grew too tall for the nets, though we just about managed. In fact Chiffchaff captures were pretty good last year ending up at about 190 new birds. Whilst we were doing a little work we stuck a net in front of a peanut feeder to see what comes along. It wasn’t much! Just a few Blue tit and Great tit. This left me nothing to really blog about until I noticed this near to the net!

You may remember that a dead Buzzard featured a month or so ago, so this time I’ve gone one better and got a dead Little Egret. This bird was found in very poor condition at the swannery this morning. It sadly died earlier today. As adult little egrets aren’t caught very often I took the opportunity to take biometrics which might add to existing data that the BTO are in possession of.

Wing – 282
Head and Bill – 132.8
Tarsus – 103.5

Also heard back about a Goldfinch I controlled in my uncles Garden in Ebbw Vale, Gwent. It hadn’t travelled to far, in fact just 10km but time lapsed between ringing and recapturing was 1541 days.