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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lovebirds and Fisticuffs

Here we are again and things have moved on somewhat from my last post. 

Our Robins are now paired up, with the males watching their mates as they feed up or collect nesting material around the garden. The males are looking very cocky. I think we have three pairs but I have only been able to re-trap the ones around the back during the last three weeks; the pair at the front have a different routine.

Our Blackbirds, too are well advanced with the females showing a well defined brood patch. They come separately in their pairs to the meal-worms and suet pellets on the lawn but occasionally they arrive at the same time. This is when the males have a 'set to' and fight like Moorhens, with their feet in the air, clawing at each other. There are four pairings that we can identify by ages and plumage, plus some "stray" virgin (2CY) females that may be 'on passage'.

The main tally of new birds consisted almost entirely of finches. I did spook an adult Redwing from the ivy berries in the side hedge yesterday which ended up in the net.  It will be a couple of weeks yet before the main exodus of our winter visitors will take place. It normally occurs about the same time as the influx of Chiffchaffs and the first Willow Warblers arrive.
How the Redwing gets its name

The Blackcaps are winding themselves up for the up-coming breeding season - the males are getting quite tuneful. I also caught a new male with "fat 4", which is where the fat deposits bulge and reach the end of the clavicles (the bird's collar-bone) and there is a clearly bulging pad of fat on the abdomen. This build up will enable a night flight to the near continent, assuming that it will make towards the direction of Hungary or some other spot in central Europe. I expect our wintering population to leave us in the next week.
First winter (continental) female Blackcap
There are still plenty of Goldfinches attending the SFH feeders. One male, that was hatched locally and who has been through one breeding season, showed a well defined cloacal protuberance, a sign that he is already thinking of another family. It will be a further three weeks before his mate will begin to lay eggs, but a nest site and constructing a nest will be his current priority - and keeping his mate well fed! 

 Some Goldfinch tails to ponder over
Although we get Rooks in the garden throughout the year, it is only now, when they are nesting, that they (a few regulars) actively seek out the bird food, especially any suet/fat based products and the meal-worms tossed onto the kitchen lawn. Late May into June sees the best time to catch and ring any in the garden; I don't have any traps large enough for one so rely on netting them then. We also get Jackdaws, one of which is "pied"

Jackdaws thieving the suet pellets
I've started to open up the net rides down the meadows in anticipation of being able to ring some north-bound migrants. Right now it's out of the question, since it's cold and wet outside and the stream is 'brown' and in full spate. I'll have to hurry up if I want to catch some Meadow Pipits should the weather change to "favourable"! 

Here are the 59 new birds that have been trapped over the last three weeks, together with the number of different individuals re-trapped.
Collared Dove - 1
Blue Tit - 1; just seen 2 pass the window unringed!
Coal Tit - 1
Long-tailed Tit - (1)
Blackcap - 2 (1)
Blackbird - 2 (4)
Redwing - 1
Robin - (4)
Dunnock - 2 (1)
House Sparrow - (1)
Chaffinch - 16; 13 females, only 4 adults
Greenfinch - 12 (1); 9 females, just 2 adult females
Goldfinch - 19 (18); 24 of these were males (14=2CY), 2 unsexed
Siskin - 2 (1)

Well, that's filled up a cold and rainy day. 'til next time, "take care".

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Singing Camellia

Well, it's raining today - and probably tomorrow. That means many other things can be done while the net(s) have to stay closed, like shopping and sheaves of waiting paperwork. On the horizon is the prospect of some spring migration, both inbound and outbound but there is some much needed habitat management to do before then. [For habitat management read 'cutting down the trees and shrubs alongside the netting areas to a height to match the extended nets in order to stop the birds going over the top'.]

The 'singing' Camellia (Feb. 2015)
It's now 23 days since my last blog and the preponderence of some species has changed quite noticeably during that time. The birds that have become more numerous are, in particular, the Chaffinch and the Greenfinch. After a slow mid-winter, the colder weather to the north of us seems to have pushed the birds south at last. It also brought many more House Sparrows, Robins and Pied Wagtails to the bird-table and the closest lawn, all in search of a 'hand-out' to keep them in good shape during the frosty period that has existed for much of the time since my last blog.

Back to the Camellia. Oblivious to the squabbling Blackbirds (male v male and female v female) going on below or the combative Robins charging from the bird table to the shed roof above, a small, unobtrusive bird warblers a quiet song from the depths of the evergreen bush. It is the emboldened, 'rising five' Blackcap that has snuck across from the bottom hedge, where he normally gives a far superior rendition of his signature tune. He is endeavouring to irritate his younger fellow Blackcap that warbles against him from the side hedge every morning. What worries both of them, I suspect, is the fact that the third male doesn't join in and the lone, virgin female takes no notice of either of them (so far)!

Here is the sum of my on-and-off efforts since last time. Additional retrapped individuals in brackets.
Collared Dove - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Blue Tit - 2 (2)
Great Tit - 4 (1); beginning to show signs of a brood patch (BP1)
Long-tailed Tit - 4 (3)
Blackcap - 2 (2); new 2CY male & female plus a December 1CY male and the male now in his 5th calendar year.   
Wren - (1)
Starling - 2; makes 5 this year - a garden 'rarity'
Blackbird - 6 (8); an influx, plus what looks like 4 local pairs, inc. 2 females with BP1
Robin - 5 (7); again, a sudden influx and some quite small birds among them. No BPs.
Dunnock - 4 (8); it amazes me where they all come from/hide! I had no less than 58 last year.
House Sparrow - 4 (12); still managing to ring new birds (138 new last year)
Chaffinch - 11 (1); even split between the sexes
Bullfinch - 1 (1)
Greenfinch - 6; mainly birds with longer wing-lengths than we are used to suggests these were migrants
Goldfinch - 27 (25)
Siskin - 3 (2)
Of the 179 handlings, 83 were new birds and 73 were already ringed. 23 birds, or less, were caught, therefore, more than once.

Come the spring equinox (in another 4 weeks), I will stop feeding suet pellets, soaked sultanas and dried mealworms and just put out mixed millet and SFH during the summer. By then, the fruit trees may be in flower and the Ivy berries at their ripest. This is usually the time that we say 'good-bye' to the Blackcaps and 'hello' to the Chiffchaffs. A cold snap may make me change my mind about what I feed, however. We are already noticing an increase in amphibian and insect abundance and the grass is trying to grow where we have walked it flat between the back door and the nets. 

Next time, I hope we can bring you some news from the water meadows, barring another flood.

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?