Under Rydon Hill

Welcome to this blog about my time away from the tedium of domestic management. Once called "Tits and Things", now sub-titled "Life in Quantoxia", there's plenty of bird ringing (90%), some odd bits of general birding, some local steam trains, some personal bits and occasional 'away days' in other parts of Britain. Rydon Hill overlooks the lower valley of the Doniford Stream, where most of these activities take place.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Half Term

It is ten days since the last posting, during which time the children have been off school, Easter has come and gone, the wind has got up and we have had our first rain for two weeks. Goldfinch migration has slowed during this time, but, not with standing, some of the local birds are nesting with at least one pair feeding small young. The same must be true of the Siskins as well.

Last year (2013), Willow Warblers dominated my ringing effort at this time. The cold weather brought the birds down to the ground looking for insects in the lawns and gathering what pollen there was. The first port of call was undoubtedly, the Euphorbia plants of which we have a good supply. The warblers were mostly caught in single panel nets placed an the lawns/mown grass; 74 in three weeks. As you can see from the table below, this year is different, the birds passing high overhead in the fine weather that has lasted for two weeks.

Species                                                    New birds                 Pulli         Retraps               Total
             Woodpigeon                                       0                       0                       3                       3
             Collared Dove                                     1                       0                       0                       1
             Goldcrest                                             3                       0                       7                     10          
             Blue Tit                                              11                       0                     10                     21
             Great Tit                                             5                       0                       3                       8
             Coal Tit                                               0                       0                       2                       2
             Long-tailed Tit                                    2                       0                       8                     10
             Chiffchaff                                          12                       0                       2                     14
             Willow Warbler                                   1                       0                       0                       1
             Blackcap                                              8                       0                       4                     12
             Wren                                                   4                       0                       3                       7
             Blackbird                                             7                       0                     22                     29
             Redwing                                              2                       0                       0                       2
             Robin                                                   6                       0                     23                     29
             Dunnock                                             7                       0                     27                     34
             House Sparrow                                 11                       0                       8                     19
             Pied/White Wagtail                             2                       0                       2                       4
             Chaffinch                                           25                       0                       3                     28
             Greenfinch                                         32                       0                       9                     41
             Goldfinch                                          301                       0                   155*                  456
                                                                                                       (* of which 74 are NFY birds)
             Siskin                                               128                       0                     31                    159
             Lesser Redpoll                                   3                       0                       0                       3
             Bullfinch                                               9                       0                       6                     15
                           Annual Total:                      580                       0                    328                   908

The period has also been taken up with the final, rigorous checking of the 2013 national database for errors and omissions that involved hunting through pages of data. The net configuration, meanwhile, was reduced to a lone 60' (18m) between the mature apple trees, where the trays and feeders are permanently kept. The start of this period also saw clear skies by day and night and the feeling is that many birds have passed over us and across the Bristol Channel, making landfall in south Wales, going by the latest reports coming from the ringers there.

The trickle that was left amounted to:
Goldcrest (2)
Blue Tit 1 (1)
Blackcap 3
Blackbird (1)
Robin (3)
House Sparrow 1 (1)
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 3 (3)
Goldfinch 21 (8)
Siskin 3
Total - 33 new birds, 19 recaptures of 10 species.
In a week's time, when migration will be almost over, our attentions will turn to the species that frequent the water meadows. Weather permitting.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A big push north

For some time now, in fact from about the 28th of last month, the Goldfinches have been coming through in noticeable numbers. It becomes apparent when the unringed birds start to carry an "abnormal" fat load compared to birds which are with us for most of the year. The other noticeable effect is that one tends to trap them from midday onwards until a couple of hours before sunset. Birds that are re-trapped during their stay are putting on 0.7-0.8 grams a day. Conversely, immediately after dawn and prior to dusk are when the "locals" pop in for their SFH - and you won't catch them if it's a bright day!

Easily sexed Goldfinch - a female
(reduced red above & below the lores)
Having said that, the only other birds that one is likely to catch are returning juveniles, especially males. Caught as 3Js, perhaps more than once, and unsexed at the time (it's dodgy sexing juveniles; it's too easy to get 'caught out' later), I can only presume that they must have migrated some distance, if only to the south Devon or Cornish coast, to see out the coldest time of the year. The toughest time is right now, when any seeds are in short supply except weed seeds on tilled ground. But soon relief will come with the many dandelions currently flowering.

Nice turn-up - a male Lesser Redpoll

On the non-ringing front, the Robins, all three pairs, have young in the nest and are raiding the bird table like no tomorrow. One pair must be nearing "chucking out time"! The Blackbirds appear twice, sometimes three times, a day, indicating that they are still sitting. The Bullfinches must also be nesting as the females have been replaced by Joseph coated males. The Chiffchaff, whose "spring" is running down, is still parading ours and the other local (tall) hedgerows. It's a job to say what the Dunnocks are up to as there are so many individuals present here, but I suspect they have laid or are laying.

Weather wise, it was wet and breezy at the beginning of the week, then warmer and drier for the next three days, before reverting to cloudy with a cold wind. Today (Sat) the Swallows have been moving through, going west, plus a singleton House Martin. More Blackcaps have arrived but very few Willow Warblers. Ringing has been 'on-and-off', partly because of the need to get on with some gardening while the weather is in our favour. The lawns have suffered badly with the extremely wet weather we endured. 

Thieves at work - two Rooks helping themselves
The Sparrowhawk didn't just have this Collared Dove for lunch;
it also killed a Wood Pigeon the day before
Nevertheless, here's what did get caught in the last seven days (re-traps in brackets):
Goldcrest (3) - local (breeding) pair ... and a spare (male)
Blue Tit 1 - adult female with makings of a brood patch.
Chiffchaff (1) - territorial male
Blackcap 3 - all 2CY, 1 female
Robin (1) - no effort made to catch these as they are all feeding young
Dunnock (2)
Chaffinch 3 (1) - all 2CY, 1 female
Greenfinch 1 (1)
Goldfinch 34 (6)
Siskin (1) 
Lesser Redpoll 1 - 2CY male
Bullfinch 1 - 2CY male

More of these, please - male Barn Swallow
Holy Week ahead. Perhaps get down the meadow/stream if I'm in less agony. Even the owner wanted to know if it was on yet. Hey ho!
[Ed. SFH - sun-flower hearts, the preferred food of many species]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Catch up

This brings things up to date. It covers a 12 day period, ending today. I was hoping to include something about the SW Ringers' Conference at Seaton that is on today, but the blessed shingles prevented me from going (more specifically, the pain and the pills). I apologise to those friends I was unable to meet up with; some other time, perhaps?

The first female Chiffchaff - 03/04/14
It has been a period of change. The Goldcrests and Siskins have become less apparent as they set about the task of breeding. The Pied Wagtails are also becoming less reliant on my mealworms now that the water in the stream has subsided. Blackcaps arrived on 24th but a few days passed before I caught one in the garden, by which time several were singing in the local hedgerows. It was noticeable how the Goldfinches, at last, are accumulating fat for onward migration. Chiffs appeared on 28th with a steady trickle of males until a female on the 3rd. Neighbour John was catching Willow Warblers on the 30th but none turned up on this side of the village here until 4th.
Male Willow Warbler - first of 2014 for me
(this bird weighed 10.7 grams)
The Robins are the most advanced nesters and must have small young by now. The Blackbirds are a close second but are still sitting. Some of the Dunnocks are still making up their minds while others have laid and the Greenfinches are currently busy nest building, in line with their "cousins", the Bullfinches. The Herring Gulls sit on the chimney stacks in their pairs, shouting at one another morning and evening. A pair of Lesser Black-backs were seen over the rooftops today for the first time.
To the chase. 18 species overall and 94 new birds plus 36 recaptures of previously ringed birds made the books over the 12 days. Escapees were Collared Dove and Rook (they don't stick in small mesh nets). Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Pied Wagtail were all new to this year's ringing list.

2CY male Blackcap (30/03/14)
Woodpigeon (1)
Goldcrest 3 (1) - possibly 2 local breeding pairs
Blue Tit 2 (1)
Great Tit (2) - scarce visitors - a pair
Chiffchaff 8 - all males except the last one
Willow Warbler 1 - male
Blackcap 2 - both males, adult and 2CY
Wren 1 (1) - a new male
Blackbird 1 (1) 
Robin 1 (4) - off duty birds coming to the bird table
Dunnock (2)
House Sparrow 4 (3) - 5 of these were males
Pied Wagtail 1 (2) - a new male and a pair
Chaffinch 5 (2) - 5 males & 3 females (incl. one released unringed)
Greenfinch 4 (1) 
Goldfinch 53 (11) - many birds on passage with good fat scores (F20-F45)
Siskin 8 (3) - mainly caught in their pairs, starting to nest
Bullfinch (1)

2CY male Goldfinch
The only other birding highlights have been a Red Kite over and the return of a pair of Lesser Black-backs. The next few days do not bode well for ringing as the forecast is for much windier conditions with some rain at times. We will just have to be patient.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Middle March

It's been longer than a week, but the current weather is holding things back right now after what promised to be a mild and gentle beginning to spring. Progress has been slow,in part due to the extremes of bright sunshine or blustery winds first thing in the morning. The weathermen must have realised that I was due a dose of shingles. Got to have something to occupy ones mind when the catching is slow!

Male Lesser Redpoll
This is what ten days from 15th to 24th have accomplished:
Collared Dove 1 - a second escaped (as they do)
Blue Tit  (3) - no brood patches apparent
Great Tit 1 - a female with the beginnings of a brood patch
[Note: Great Tits generally nest 7-10 days earlier than Blue Tits]
Chiffchaff 2 - first on 19th, next on 21st; low fat scores indicate "local" birds
Wren 1 - 2CY female
Blackbird 1 (2) - another new full adult female
Robin 2 (2) - nesting in progress. 4th & 5th new birds of the year also
Dunnock 1 (3)
House Sparrow 1 (2)
Chaffinch 3 - plus one released unringed ("scaly leg")
Greenfinch 1 - cracking male
Goldfinch 13 (10)
Siskin 1 (2) - all males
Lesser Redpoll 1 - only the second of the year
29 new birds + 23 recaptures of 14 species  

There was not much sign of passing Goldfinches. One female was carrying a large amount of fat deposits (ESF 40) sufficient for a migration of perhaps 200+ miles, with another two birds with less (ESF 25), enough for 100 miles or so. Half of the birds showed no or little traces of fat so they must be intending to remain locally for the time being. We know that they cross the south-west peninsula, seeking the warmer English Channel coast during winter, before returning north to areas around the Bristol Channel.

(heard but not caught - yet)
 My apologies for a late posting - due to my current, painful affliction. Should be able to catch up later this week, I hope.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A sign of spring

What a difference a week makes. The warmth of last week has brought on the flowering shrubs and the primroses and a few bluebells. Consequently, the bumblebees made an appearance; Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butties were also on the wing. And then ... FOG. After a glorious weekend (too glorious for catching), on Monday and Tuesday we had heavy overcast and the following three days have seen dense FOG which has not cleared because of our proximity to the Bristol Channel. We are feeling cold and damp right now, whilst much of the country has had lovely sunshine. We're promised better things tomorrow, though - that'll mean wind!

Primroses (early March)
On Sunday morning (9th), I was walking my dog along the coast at Watchet and had stopped to chat to a local woman. I was facing the sea, or I might have missed it, when I noticed a  male SWALLOW coming in-off; it turns out that it was the first for the county this year. There were 30+ Turnstones and some Oystercatchers but no Dunlin or Purple Sands that I could find (1 reported) on the rocks at high tide.

The 1st Chiffchaff of 2014
(note the short primary projection)
On Thursday, I found the first Chiffchaff in the net late morning. Another one came today. Neither had prominent "pollen horns" or were carrying anything other than the barest amount of fat reserves. I wonder where they had come from; the far south-west or France perhaps, or even really local, surviving in a garden or marsh or on a cliff face that hadn't given way with all that record-breaking rain?
The Chiff's broad tail feathers may indicate that
this was a returning adult (male)
It turned out to be quite an eventful week:
Blue Tit - 2 (1) - retrap was a 2010 male
Long-tailed Tit - (2)
CHIFFCHAFF - 2, both males on size (NFY)
Wren - 1
Blackbird - (1)
Robin - 1 (4) - signs that laying was imminent 
Dunnock - (5) - a couple of males with pronounced 'protuberances' but no full brood patches seen so far or nest building (they can be sneaky)
House Sparrow - 1
Pied Wagtail - 1 (NFY)
Chaffinch - 4 - 3 of which were 'big' adults
Greenfinch - 1
Goldfinch - 15 (12) - probably a third or a quarter of what was around; oldest bird was from 2011

Immature Siskin - a few unmoulted median coverts
and a 'full set' of juvenile greater coverts
Siskin - 14 (5) - many passing through, plus a few "stayers" of recent origin
Bullfinch - 2 more males
That makes 44 birds ringed, 30 individuals recaptured; =74 of 14 species this week, 2 of which were new for the year (NFY)

Immature Bullfinch with 4 buff greater coverts

The ubiquitous Dunnock!

Everybody's favourite - the Bumbarrel
(Long-tailed Tit)

This unfortunate male Robin (from next door)
had lost its tail feathers a short while ago.
The Sparrowhawks have become very active around here this week, I notice.

Next week's plant will be Euphorbia - and I'll explain why then.