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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A wintery month

Well, we thought it was cold for us! The temperatures yo-yoed up and down from day to day, hitting minus 7 and plus 12 at night and daytime maximums between plus 4 and plus 15. Compared to some, we got off lightly. Something tells me it's going to get worse later this week with strong winds adding to the dismay.

Since Boxing Day, exactly one month ago, I have managed to ring 115 new birds of 21 species. A couple of birds stand out: another young Black Redstart was somewhat of a surprise and a male Blackcap in its 5th calendar year made a return visit to the bird table. 

Juvenile Black Redstart number 2
During this period, there have been seven other species in the garden which haven't found their way onto the 2015 capture list (yet); Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Magpie, Redwing, Rook and Sparrowhawk.

Immature female Blackcap (winter)
I have a new trainee who is taking a year out from his studies at Bangor Uni. to earn some money and get some hands-on, too. He's certainly got the hang of wing measurements and 9 times out 10 gets the same as me - and I'm known as a 'long-winger' [cut the jokes out there, you lot]. Charles shows promise.

The complete list is as follows, subsequent captures omitted:
Woodpigeon 1
Collared Dove 2
Goldcrest (1)
Blue Tit 5 (5) - X105976 is a 2010 (male) bird
Great Tit 1 (3)
Coal Tit 1
Long-tailed Tit 8 (6) - mostly paired up, incl. a pair of birds ringed by JW in November 
Blackcap 3 (2) - X105790 had evaded capture in previous 2 winters
Wren 1 (2)
Starling 3 - the females this time
Blackbird 2 (5) - 7 local birds but only ever see 4!
Robin 2 (8) - 10 birds! Mostly paired up with minor sparring at times. 5 were retrapped 2x. Female L890601 was a 3J back in early summer 2011.
Black Redstart 1 - 
Dunnock 2 (8) - also paired up and singing. Y482086 is a 2011 female or earlier
House Sparrow 9 (9) - 15 of these were males!
Pied Wagtail 1 (2) - Y482785, a male from the 2012 broods
Chaffinch 2 - starting to appear, so more to come?
Bullfinch 2 (2) - retraps were both 2012 hatch year males
Greenfinch 6 (2) - after an autumnal dearth, a sudden influx; 2 adults sent over by JW
Goldfinch 60 (36) - 58 males, 36 females, (2 un-sexed); 81 immature birds & 12 full adults (3 un-aged); 3 males from 2012 broods.
Siskin 2 (1) - the retrap was ringed as a 2CY female in March 2013
Note: JW's garden is just 2km NE of mine; it's also 4x the size! 

Another fat pig
Now, a different sort of red bird spotted from the bedroom window. Unfortunately, unable to lift off with live prey this time.

Devon Air Ambulance - 24 Jan 2015








Thursday, December 25, 2014

Santa special

Christmas Robin
A Happy Christmas to all my readers and may 2015 treat you well when it arrives.

Since my last posting on the 14th, there has been a steady trickle of birds through the garden. However, it has not been really wintery, just a tad miserable with grey skies and plenty of westerly winds that have now turned northerly. Right now, the sun is out and the temperature is low. During that time, ninety different birds have passed through the "ringing room", with by far and away the most being 45 Goldfinches (50%).

There have been a few "oddities" that I don't normally catch and that always engenders a warm feeling. In a different part of the country I might look upon them as a more regular occurence at this time of year. There was a Song Thrush (only the 4th of the year), another Blackcap making 20 in the last two months, the other half (female) of the Starling pair and, lastly, a Black Redstart a couple of days ago.



1CY female Black Redstart
A full list of captures is as follows:
Blue Tit 3 (2) - 1 new adult male
Great Tit 1 - adult male
Long-tailed Tit 3 (4) - all this years young (the local adults are all ringed)
Blackcap 1 - immature male
Starling 1 - adult female
Blackbird 1 (1) - immature birds
Song Thrush 1 - 1CY
Robin 2 (4) - 1 new adult, the rest this year's offspring
Black Redstart 1 - a large 1CY female with a wing of 87 mm. [Garden tick]
Dunnock 4 (4) - 2 new adults, 1 a male on CP
House Sparrow 2 (4)
Chaffinch 1 - 1CY female
Greenfinch 3 (2) - new = youngsters; the other 2 were "controls" from nearest ringer, John, one originally ringed not quite 6 years ago, as a 2CY male, in January 2009 - and not seen since.
Goldfinch 29 (16) - made up of 10 adult males, 6 adult females, 13 immature males, 12 immature females and 4 unsexed juvenile birds.

Plans for the next week or so include having a look at a flock of Meadow Pipits on a neighbours field, provided his daughter's horse is elsewhere. Au revoir.

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.