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, 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!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A week later ...

... and the sun has returned. However, the last few days have been blustery, mainly from the north-west or west, and interspersed with showers. Bird-life has dwindled apart from the sparrows raiding the bird table alongside the camellia. Not many to show for it because I didn't put up the net between their favourite "entry bush" and their dinner. [You need to read also the post prior to this one, below]. I did keep the net between the SFH feeders in the orchard with much better results yesterday. Bingo! lots of 3J King Harrys; my favourite species at the moment.

The meadows were disappointing this weekend; perhaps I chose the wrong day. There just weren't the birds about. In two-plus hours I caught two birds and saw a Kingfisher. The only other birds were some Chaffinches moving noisily between the tops of the alders.

I've added in some photos from last week as well as this.

On of the three female Sparrowhawks that are
all too apparent at the moment
Juvenile Chiffchaff in heavy PJ moult
(with 3 ogc's)
Young Coal Tit
(showing the white nape patch)
Progress over the past six days: 77 new and 11 re-traps. All birds trapped were juveniles apart from a 2010 vintage, male Blue Tit on his fifth encounter with the human hand.

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (male)
Blue Tit 3 (6)
Great Tit 2 (1)
Coal Tit 2 - 2nd & 3rd for the year
Long-tailed Tit (2)
Chiffchaff 1
Blackcap 1
Whitethroat 1
Blackbird (1)
Robin 1 (1)
Dunnock 4 - still they come after a "disappearing act"
House Sparrow 4 (1) - see above
Greenfinch 3
Goldfinch  54 (1) - now over 400 for the year (all in the garden)

Prince Harry?
(Juvenile Goldfinch in advanced PJ moult)
The weather looks fair for the coming week - will it be too good, and the birds overfly us? We will have to wait and see.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Today, it rained.

Nothing new in that; it's a Bank Holiday. It looks as though we will get at least twice the normal August rainfall, in other words, as much as we expect each month from October to January.

This week I've not been able to put up more than one net. The orchard needed some pre-winter attention (it is left to go wild) and there was a 'Pony Week' down on the meadow. However, I did manage 36 new birds and 25 re-captures covering 16 species in the limited time available. A goodly chunk of the new birds were caught by the stream yesterday, when I erected a 60' between some willows and alders. Fortunately, the seven or so ponies were feeding out of sight on the other side of the stream. Their presence does stop me netting the ford, probably the best place.

Other birds that I have seen this week include a lone Swift over the house of an evening, two Ravens being seen off by the local crows, a young Moorhen, a couple of Grey Wagtails, the usual Dipper and Kingfishers and, a sign of winter approaching, two Canada Geese over the house, a precursor to the dawn movements from Dunster Beach to one of the inland reservoirs. The Swallows and House Martins continue to feed young.

The list:
Sparrowhawk 1
Blue Tit 2 (2)
Great Tit 2 (2)
Long-tailed Tit 3 (11)
Chiffchaff 10 (1)
Blackcap 4 (1)
Garden Warbler 1
Wren 1
Blackbird 1 (2)
Song Thrush 1
Robin (2)
Dunnock 1 
House Sparrow 2 (2)
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 1
Goldfinch 5

The Sparr was chasing the Sonth and both landed in the net just short of my left ear; don't know who was the most surprised. Grabbed the Sparr first (of course). The chiffs were a welcome surprise, too; several more did not "find" the net and one escaped the bag. Best, though, was my third borin' juvenile bird of the summer, giving credence to the fact that they (Garden Warblers) might nest quite local. The species was recorded as a mere 'possible', the lowest level of proof, for our 10km square on the recent national atlas.

Around here, the birds have been nesting quite late and having second or third broods, which they would not normally attempt. There are still many young birds in wholly juvenile plumage, but underneath we can see that some are already playing 'catch-up', with some new body feathers sprouting. It was particularly noticeable that the Chiffs were in all levels of plumage, as I caught them over a 90 minute period. I also 'controlled' a Chiff that my nearest ringing neighbour had ringed as 3JJ (fresh juvenile) some two months earlier. I was able to sex it on wing-length as a male.

I'm rather busy this week and the weather doesn't look good - either too windy or rain on and off all week. It must improve somewhen; not too much or all the migrants will just fly straight 'high-over'.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What's doing? Not a lot!

It has been a tad breezy down this way lately, what with the wind coming from the north-west down the Irish Sea. Although that means the old orchard net is sheltered somewhat, the new orchard net (the orchard is new-ish, not the net) does billow a bit at times. Just have to keep an eye on things, that's all. 

August is the month of the House Sparrows. This year seems to have been a good one for them. A few more and it'll be a 'ton-up'. All youngsters, of course; you won't catch a wily adult hitting the net very often, or even a second time offender amongst the teenage ranks!

Birds of some interest (that means I don't catch them very often) this period include another Collared Dove (makes three this year), a Woodpigeon, a Sedge Warbler, a Garden Warbler and the eleventh Pied Wagtail of the year.

Juvenile Garden Warbler
[note the grey collar]
Juvenile Sedge Warbler
[If it was an adult, it would be very abraded]
[Always fascinated by the shape of their iris]
Altogether, there were 16 species and 63 new birds that were ringed. Ten species also had re-traps, amounting to 31 percent of the tally. This is pretty normal for me and this type of general ringing. Its the same with the Constant Effort Sites programme with which I was associated for many, many years. On the other hand, some ringers/groups target certain species at particular times of the year and their re-traps tend to be year-to-year  controls and a lot less as a percentage of their overall, annual totals. They usually make up for it with many more recoveries!

To the chase! All juveniles unless indicated otherwise.
Woodpigeon 1 - adult
Collared Dove 1 - adult
Wren 3
Dunnock 2 (2)
Robin 8 (2) - r/t adult female 1 year old
Blackbird 2 (2)
Sedge Warbler 1 - only one so far this year
Garden Warbler 1 - a second bird in two weeks! Scarce around here.
Blackcap 3 (1)
Long-tailed Tit 2 (10) - 2 r/t adults, 1 year & 2 years old
Blue Tit 10 (4)
Great Tit 1 (3)
House Sparrow 12 (2) - a new, adult male!!
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 1 (1)
Goldfinch 13 (3) - a new ad. male, 2 r/t ad. females, 1 of them caught 967 days ago (December) as a 1CY  

Juvenile Robin undergoing PJ moult 
Juvenile Robin at the end of PJ moult
Juvenile Blue Tit nearing the end of PJ moult
Juvenile Blue Tit - renewing old greater coverts unevenly
[notice that the alula & primary coverts are "original"]
It's 'Pony Week' - so all efforts, ornithological or horticultural, confined to the garden this week. I might be able to do something in the meadows after that, provided the remaining horses/ponies are more interested in grazing than seeing what I'm up to.