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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Not summer, anyway.

It's been a funny old four weeks since I last blogged about bird-ringing. Although I've been able to ring most mornings, the impending Christmas rituals and the presence of a plumber in the bathroom has frustrated my efforts to present this piece to the world.

Over this period, I handled 22 different species. Let's look at some of the more interesting ones.
1CY Blackcap, male
5CY Blackcap, male.

Notice the juvenile, dark brown, crown feathers admixed with the black ones, acquired during the post-juvenile moult, in the young (1CY) male Blackcap above. The lower Blackcap is in its 5th year. It has a much broader, big alula feather than the young bird. The bird itself has an olive-grey mantle compared to the olive-brown of the young bird. Overall, it's a "neater" bird.

Adult Grey Wagtail, showing the broad primary coverts
Under-tail of adult male Grey Wagtail
This Grey Wagtail can be seen most days either on the rocks down at the stream or flitting around the rooftops of the nearby houses, the coach garage, Travis Perkins' outlet or the railway station buildings. It was a complete turn-up to catch it in a net in our orchard instead of a net across the stream.

The downside of being a ringer - Blue Tits!

1CY Siskin, showing the 3 white-edged, unmoulted, greater coverts

Below is a shot of an unusual Greenfinch. It has 5 primary coverts with grey tips, indicative of an adult male. Further inspection shows that the outer 5 primaries (the outermost is tiny) are somewhat different from the inner five. The yellow of the outer edge is brighter on the "adult" feathers. This bird had done more than the usual post-juvenile moult; a few youngsters do moult out primaries 6 and 7 and rarely 8. I have never seen primaries 6 to 10 moulted in sub-adult Greenfinches before.

1CY greenfinch with primaries 6-10 replaced
I now know that the local population of Dunnocks equals or exceeds 14 birds at the moment. One bird, a juvenile, had "emigrated" from neighbouring ringer John's place about 2 km away. They have all put on weight lately, some 3 grams heavier than during days with longer daylight. One adolescent bird has acquired these rather unsightly growths on its feet but it doesn't seem to affect it at the moment.

Cysts on the feet of a juvenile Dunnock
We now come to the "results page". Two new species for the year were caught and ringed in the last week. The cummulative totals, excluding multiple re-traps, are as follows:

Sparrowhawk - 1; young male.
Collared Dove - 1; this year's, male on size.
Jackdaw - 1; this year's, female on size. A new species for 2014.
Goldcrest - 4 (2); five were males.
Blue Tit - 14 (7); six were adults, three of which were new.
Great Tit - 2 (7); two were adults and one of those was a new male.
Coal Tit - 1 (1); both 1CY birds.
Long-tailed Tit - (6)
Chiffchaff - 1; 3rd week of November. None since.
Blackcap - 11 (1); one adult, plus a "control" not seen since February 2011.
Wren - (3); one adult female, ringed two years ago.
Starling - 1; adult male. A new species for 2014.
Dipper - 1; a full adult. 
Blackbird - 5 (4); just one "near continental" type.
Redwing - nil;
Robin - (5); all 1CY, except a female ringed as a juvenile in July 2011.
Dunnock - 4 (10); oldest bird was a female from January 2012.
House Sparrow - 5 (11); just five females.
Grey Wagtail - 1; an unexpected adult male found in the bottom shelf.
Chaffinch - 5;
Greenfinch - 14 (1); 9 male / 6 female. Five adults, 
Goldfinch - 91 (44); incl. one 'control', ringed by a neighbouring ringer.
        There were 2 adults from 2010/11 winter, 1 from 2011/12, 4 from 
2012/13  and 6 from last winter.
Siskin - 2; both in the last week of November, none seen/heard since.

With the Christmas holidays now upon us, I should be able to make the most of two potential trainees and get in a few sessions down at the meadows, by way of a change.

There's always the chance of another new species for the year still. Just look what turned up in neighbouring ringer's garden on the 4th December!

Dartford Warbler trapped by John Webber (C)
An addition to his garden list!
The nearest site to see them used to be over 10 miles to the west. What next?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two weeks have passed

In those two weeks things have moved closer to the shortest daylength, now just five weeks away, and there has been a small amount of movement. During weeks 45 & 46 in other years (all three, big deal), I have caught 21 different species and averaged 26.33 new birds per week. The only species that has been trapped but not turned up as a new bird is the Long-tailed Tit. This year, I have achieved 32.00 new birds per week covering just 14 species. Below I've tabulated all 21 species, with the average number of new birds over the last three years alongside this years.

1CY female Chiffchaff
1CY male Chiffchaff
These are the two Chiffs from this period. Athough the same species and approximately the same age, they look much different (and not just because of my photography skills). This female was greener and yellower than the male. It was a pity that my new trainees were not around when these were caught, but there will be plenty of opportunity for that at a later date, rest assured.

As you may be aware, I love my 'Stillits' (that's Norwegian for Goldfinch) and I'm having a good year for them. Of the 14 retraps, 5 were males, the oldest 467 and 348 days from ringing, the others ringed as juveniles this year. The other nine were females, three of which were returning adults, the rest all juveniles with the oldest ringed back at the beginning of July. Female Goldfinch X105685 was ringed 1397 days previously as a 3CY bird. She will be about five and a half years old by now. It happens to be the 92nd Goldfinch that I ringed, in my first ten days here, while there was snow on the ground. [See http://masterringer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/king-of-kings.html] With a long history of being caught in different months, I suspect that she breeds and remains locally.

Note: average new for weeks 45/46 shown in square brackets [-] thus. As always, current retraps, counted once only if more than one re-capture during this period, in brackets (-).
Collared Dove [0.67] - 1; a 1CY bird from early in the year
Gt. Spot. Woodpecker [0.33] - 0; a cracking adult male, noisy too!
Magpie [0.33] - 0
Goldcrest [2.33] - 2 (1); both males, one an adult renewing part of its tail that "came adrift" elsewhere
Blue Tit [10.00] - 7 (4); two adults, the rest youngsters
Great Tit [1.00] - 1 (1)
Coal Tit [0.67] - 1
Long-tailed Tit [0.00] - 0
Chiffchaff [0.67] - 2; 1CY of opposite sexes
Blackcap [3.67] - 2; both males, the first a full adult (Euring age 4)
Wren [1.00] - 0
Blackbird [4.67] - 2; both young males (probably fairly local, going by wing legth)
Song Thrush [0.67] - 0
Redwing [0.67] - 0
Robin [1.00] - 2 (2)
Dunnock [1.33] - 0 (2)
House Sparrow [2.33] - 1 (1)
Chaffinch [2.00] - 1
Greenfinch [4.33] - 1
Goldfinch [14.67] - 39 (14)
Siskin [0.33] - 0

However, the following period started with a Sparrowhawk, a Gt. Spotted Woodpecker, a Goldcrest and another Blackcap (makes eight so far this season), all of which would have improved the figures. I get the impression that autumn has been about two weeks late this year (compared to recent years) and as yet we haven't seen any Redwing movements and many of the trees are still carrying a lot of leaf. More about them in a fortnight's time, fingers crossed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

We're on the move

Things have been a little slow of late, hence the long interval between posts, but there seems to be some movement just recently. Over the past three weeks, my new bird totals have been 17, 17 and 34 - and the weekly species total has risen to twelve.

First year male Goldfinch completing PJ moult (October)
Naturally, at this time of year, Goldfinches have returned to Number 1 spot, with 18 new birds and 9 retraps last week, despite the periods of wind and rain that hamper much of our ringing hereabouts.  I am well over 500 new for the year already - with the main influx of newbies still to come (hopefully) - plus 72 individuals from last year, 14 from 2012 and 7 from the year before, my first here.

First year male Blackcap (October)
Same bird - underside (note the pale yellow flush)
The other tell-tale sign of winter is the catching of Blackcaps; the first (a 1CY male) on the 18th was right on cue, then another (1CY female) on the 22nd and three more since. I checked on the number of birds that were ringed in the orchard last winter (November - mid-March); it came to 22 birds, with two of those returning from previous winters.

Fun shot of a male Goldcrest's crown feathers
Another sign of the impending short days was the presence of a few new Goldcrests. The species breeds quite locally to us and I retrap birds from March to June, but after that it's only the odd new bird until the clocks go back when we then expect some winter arrivals, most likely passage birds heading for the Exmoor forests to the south-east of us. 

The bird that is missing so far - is Redwing. I saw one locally on the 14th and then a flock of 18 on the 25th. There was a major arrival on the north-east coast of England overnight on 28/29th so it will be another week or so before we see them regularly and, hopefully, one or two in the net.

Perversely, we saw a Swallow hurriedly heading south over the house on the 22nd in the late afternoon! Our local birds left ages ago.

The composite list for the last three weeks is: 
[same period retraps omitted]
Gt. Spotted Woodpecker 1 - adult male
Goldcrest 3
Blue Tit 1 (5)
Great Tit 1 (1)
Long-tailed Tit 4 (6)
Chiffchaff 1 - hatch year female
Blackcap 5
Wren 3 (3) - all young birds
Blackbird 2 (3) - just the 1 adult (female), retrapped
Robin (3)
Dunnock 2 (5)
House Sparrow 5 (6)
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 1
Goldfinch 38 (18)
118 birds of which 68 were new birds

Immature male Great Tit. Note the large, shiny bib.

One piece of late news - the southern end of the meadows has been fenced off, the horses now confined to the northern section. This means we can put nets up again, not just while the hay crop is growing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

About to burst into action?

It's that time of year again, when summer turns to autumn and the days get appreciably shorter and cooler. It is also the time of year for a complete change of the local avifauna; the summer visitors have left, the winter visitors are soon to arrive and different, resident species take advantage of the feeding stations, although the individual birds may now be strangers to the area also.

From a bird-ringing point of view, it is our quiet time. The remaining regulars know the score and how to get to the food without getting caught too often. Hence the shuffling of the feeders and the net. But still it's quite quiet and slow going. It was the time to get on and sort out the garden for the winter - all those chores a big garden demands.

The last 28 days' figures (145 handlings of 127 birds) attest to the change in the seasons: daily figures - new, (recaptured), species;
Week 38 - 0 (0) 0; 8 (8) 3; 4 (13) 3; 1 (2) 2; 1 (2) 3; 1 (1) 2; 5 (4) 5;
Week 39 - 1 (1) 2; 0 (0) 0; 3 (1) 2; 0 (3) 2; 2 (3) 1; 2 (4) 4; 4 (2) 4;
Week 40 - 0 (1) 1; 3 (0) 3; 2 (0) 2; 0 (2) 2; 0 (2) 2; 3 (3) 6; 3 (3) 6;
Week 41 - 3 (0) 2; 4 (4) 3; 3 (2) 1; 3 (3) 4; 9 (2) 8; 2 (6) 2; 10 (0) 3;

Female Goldcrest showing "powder" from newly emerged body feathers
Freshly moulted male House Sparrow of indeterminate age
1st calendar year male Chaffinch
1st calendar year female Chaffinch
It can be seen that the last week has produced nearly half of the new birds for the period. The change in the weather probably had something to do with it, as well as the moult season coming to a close. The picture is not as bleak as it appears when you know the minimum number of individual birds that have availed themselves of your hospitality. 
If we then total them up, leaving out any birds that were caught more than once, we get 76 new birds of 17 species, plus 51 recaptured birds from an earlier period, as follows:

Collared Dove 1
Goldcrest 2 - in the last two weeks; one was an adult female on tail shape
Blue Tit 2 (4)
Great Tit 2 (2)
Coal Tit 1 - adult male
Long-tailed Tit (1) 
Chiffchaff 2 (1) - all in the first week, the r/t was from the meadow a month earlier
Blackcap 1 - in the second week
Wren 8 (2) - two surges of young birds
Blackbird 5 (1) - half of these were on the last day, so movement has started 
Robin 6 (3) - all new birds (juvs) in the second/third week
Dunnock 0 (4)
House Sparrow 14 (16) - 30 birds but at least double that must have used the bird table
Grey Wagtail 1 - this female has taken a shine to our little pond 

Female Grey Wagtail
Chaffinch 4 - all this year's young
Greenfinch 1 (1) - a declining species, it seems
Goldfinch 26 (16) - making a strong presence in the last week (18 new, 8 r/t)

Goldfinches make up over a quarter of all the birds I catch and this year looks like being a bumper one for numbers. I have caught just six birds so far this summer (1%) that were ringed in 2011 (my first year here), four of which were at least 3 years old and one male was at least 5 years old. I will probably add to that in the coming weeks.

Juvenile Goldfinch replacing all its lost greater coverts 

Young Goldfinch coming to the end of its PJ moult
Pointed juvenile tail feathers - Goldfinch
The gold flash on the primaries that gives the Goldfinch its name
Meanwhile, in and over the garden we have had a couple of Magpies, four Jackdaws, up to nine Collared Doves, just the dominant pair of Herring Gulls, a Buzzard, a Raven and the daily parade of Rooks. This week, the Dipper has started singing again down at the stream and the Little Egrets pop by about once a week.

So, it looks like the winter feeding and ringing season is almost upon us and the bird food bill is about to spiral upwards. At least I don't have to think of the cost of rings like some teams, who can ring 3-400 new birds in a session, and on several days a week. I should just be able to achieve that sort of number between now and the end of the year!

I hope it won't be as long as this has been before I have something new to report

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gold rush is over

But there will be another one in the not too distant future, rest assured. Right now Carduelis carduelis seem to have dried up.

Fourteen days of trying to keep the garden tidy, entertaining visitors, who kept unsociable hours, and keeping one eye on the orchard net produced 111 new birds and 28 re-captures, covering 15 species, mostly in the two/three hours after dawn.

Juvenile Chiffchaff (Sept), showing 3 ogc
The first eight days were pleasantly sunny, with daytime temperatures reaching 24C most days and falling as low as 6C on one occasion, meaning there was bird activity throughout the day. The following six days were mainly "dreary", with few sunny intervals and a nagging E/NE wind with typical temperatures between 22C and 10C, stifling any bird activity, confining it to a post-dawn slot.

Of 79 Goldfinches netted, just four were adult. I caught 69 new juveniles and trapped 6  youngsters that were returning from an earlier period. All the adults were about 60% through their primary moult; two were males, one was a female and I left the other one un-sexed. Of the juveniles, only eight had not started their post-juvenile moult, two had finished and four were renewing a substantial number of retrices [R4 &R5 were 'old' in all cases]. The large majority of juveniles had moulted ALL their greater coverts, which is going to make ageing a bit of a headache later in the winter, if not before.

Juvenile male Goldfinch undergoing PJ moult (early Sept)
(just head and neck, and a few bits and bobs, to go)
Individual birds, in revised BOU order:
Sparrowhawk 1 - another juv. female, 240 mm wing, 208 g. (no photo', dodgy when alone)
Blue Tit 6 (2) - all juvs except a retrap from 2011
Great Tit 3 (2) - all juv females
Long-tailed Tit (4) - all this year's
Chiffchaff 6 - 50/50 sex wise, juvs with 3-4 visible ogc's
Blackcap 5 - 2 males, 3 females, juvs, starting to lay down fat.
Wren 1 (1)
Blackbird (2) - inc. male from 2011
Song Thrush 1 - Euring age 3, text book tail
Robin 2 (2) - a new adult
Dunnock 2 (4) -
House Sparrow  8 (3)
Chaffinch 2 - juv males
Greenfinch 3 - all young females
Goldfinch 70 (9) - only 4 were adults (see above)

Immature Robin (Sept)
This week, there's a sure sign of autumn in the air when we have three Robins singing against each other in the early mornings.

In the last six days, I have only caught 13 "King Harrys'" [Goldfinches] of which one was adult. From 25th August until 8th September, there was a noticeable influx of young birds and I ringed 115 new ones. 
From 15th April to 24th August this year I only caught 60 new birds plus 23 adult birds that I had ringed previously. Of the new birds, 75% were recently fledged young, none of which were recaptured during that period. The rest would have been breeding adults of unknown ages. [Euring class 4]
I suspect that I am going through a lull in new birds that will not pick up until the first few days of October with the initial wave of out-going migration. I may have to wait until temperatures drop to a daytime max of 10C and 5C or less at night, usually about the middle/end of November, that forces the birds to come to gardens or push on further south. 
What I do know is that we are currently in need of some rain, the last significant amount being 11 mm on Bank Holiday Monday (three weeks ago). Perhaps some decent rainfall will bring the birds in - who knows.

Immature (male) House Sparrow
The bird tables empty pretty quickly in the mornings after I've replaced the suet pellets. Up to twenty Spuggies descend on it in quick succession, the later ones having to make do with the millet seeds and SFH. I purposely don't set a net across there flight path - except once in a while!