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, 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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Two weeks on ...

... and we had 46 mm of rain in 5 hours. That's the same as the ten year average, all on the first day of the month! More thunderstorms have ensued since. Anyway, back to birds and the last 18 days.

Garden-wise, it's the House Sparrows that have been most in evidence, as they always are at this time of year with this year's youngsters looking for their next meal. They don't go near the feeders, as a rule, but prefer the bird table, either ours or our neighbours. That means I catch them as they cross the open part of the garden, where I don't usually net. There is still an active Blackbird's nest somewhere; both mum and dad collect mouthfuls of suet pellets early doors and scoot off with them.

Cinnabar caterpillars on Ragwort
(click to enlarge)
It's been a very good year for butterflies and moths. We have had many more Cinnabar moths this year and, with a small patch of Ragwort at their disposal, hundreds of caterpillars have emerged. Right now, they are looking for somewhere to pupate.

There has been a lot of Herring Gull activity post fledging, all ages readily coming to the broken up Hovis crusts I deliver. One pair are still attending their nest site, which they haven't used, just played about with a few bits and bobs of rubbish to form a base. The building's owners usually take the old nest away each autumn, as do many owners/occupiers. Still doesn't stop the birds from returning to their allotted spot each spring, though. 

There was a flurry of Swallow activity last week with 26 birds hunting over the garden one evening. Down on the meadows the number of individuals hawking for insects has decreased noticeably. The meadows are fully cut and part has been "mown" ready for the inevitable gymkhana that the owner's sister puts on for her young female riders. The better news is that the owners are going to fence off and gate the southern two meadows (that includes the ford) and resolve to contain the various horses in the larger northern section (that also has a crossing). Most of the site that I use could be available for ringing all year round next year.

Despite various restrictions, mainly on the domestic front, I have still managed to ring 98 new birds this period and re-capture another 26 individuals, (I discard any same period re-traps), of 19 species as under. The list is dominated by juveniles, before, during or after their post-juvenile moult.

Collared Dove (1) - long-winged, adult female of indeterminate age (>4 yrs), with BP
Kingfisher 1
Gt. Spotted Woodpecker (1)
Goldcrest 1
Blue Tit 6
Great Tit 3 (2) - 2 post-breeding females re-trapped
Long-tailed Tit (3)
Chiffchaff 7 - incl. adult male & female
Blackcap 10
Whitethroat 2 (1) - re-trap breeding female & a new 2CY male
Wren 8 (2)
Blackbird 8 (3) - includes the late breeding female (2x) although I try to avoid her.
Robin 5 (1)
Dunnock 1 (3)
House Sparrow 27 (8) - a new adult male & female
Grey Wagtail 1
Greenfinch 5
Goldfinch 11 (1) - adult male from beforehand

Grey Wagtail - juvenile
Goldcrest - juvenile
Blackcap -juvenile male
Note single, new, black feather emerging above eye
 Today I spotted (pun) my first local flycatchers. They, a pair, were carrying food for some youngsters tucked away somewhere around the old water-wheel site that served Egrove Farm mill. Couldn't stop - other half about to leave for Norfolk.

Off-site I did manage to meet up with two old Beds birding mates (DJO & DK) for a pint and a curry like the old days. Hilarious.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer sunshine

The weather has been good to us; just one morning when we had a heavy shower that brought 11mm in one hour before breakfast. Our garden thermometer has measured a max of 23C to 29C in the shade before 2pm every day since last time.

Following on from the sad tale of the other two Herring Gull chicks, I can report that the third one managed to fledge successfully last week - not before I was able to ring it when it was in the throws of mastering flight. They normally spend two/three days practising when it is possible to throw a towel over them and pick them up.

42 day old Herring Gull chick
The garden nets have been moved around a couple of times, with one always in the bottom of the orchard. The sun has meant an early start and an equally early finish by ringers' standards. With more racks cut out down the meadows by yours truly between garden chores (sweaty work), we were able to give that a couple of goes, too. The net runs have never exceeded 180' at either site so far, giving a max. of four nets operated.

A problem at this time of year, especially if ringing very early or very late in the day, is the possibility of catching, inadvertently, a bat. I did just that and, after disentangling it from the net, I left it to come to its senses on the potting shed door.

Small bat (Pipistrelle?)

I was lucky enough to re-catch the juvenile woodpecker in the garden again. As you can see from the photograph below, "it" (still unable to sex the bird) had just begun its post-juvenile moult. The photo shows the contrast between a new, red, adult under-tail covert and the pink juvenile ones.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker
 "Fairmead" - 113 birds of 17 species, 72 new, 41 retraps (+10 re-handlings): the vast majority were young birds. I haven't caught any Jackdaws this year (yet), but there were >105 sitting on the roof the other night.

Herring Gull - 1, 41 day old chick about to fledge (see above)
Gt. Spotted Woodpecker - (1), the previous juvenile, just starting its first partial moult
Magpie - 1, first juv we've ever caught here
Blue Tit - 9 (4), juvs plus one r/t 2CY moulting female, r/t adult male in heavy moult
Great Tit - 5 (2), juvs
Long-tailed Tit - 1 (5), juvs & 1 r/t adult female
Wren - 2 (1), juvs, probably males (on size)
Blackbird - 10 (1), 8 male & 2 female juvs plus a new 3CY+ male
Robin - 3 (4), 4 juvs, 2 r/t females, 1 r/t male
Dunnock - 3 (3), 2 r/t females, 1 r/t male
House Sparrow - 10 (9), 6 males (1 new), 4 females, the rest = juvs
Pied Wagtail - (3), adults
Chaffinch - 1, a lone 3CY+ male
Bullfinch - 6 (2), 2 new females, 2 new males, 2 old males, 2 juvs
Greenfinch - 4, all males, 1 male 2CY
Goldfinch - 7 (3), 1 r/t male, 1 new male, the rest were unsexed juvs
Siskin - (2), a possible pair

Meanwhile, down the road, our species make-up is profoundly different at this time of year. I got the most enjoyment from re-catching the adult Dipper (below) that was ringed as an adult in May last year. This time it was actively moulting, as can be seen if you study the picture closely. Visible are the contrast between old and new primaries, a row of, as yet, unmoulted median coverts and some new, black feathers appearing in the crown. 
3CY+ Dipper in active moult (mid July)
"Egrove" - 50 birds of 14 species, 42 of which were new birds; all juveniles except where indicated.

Kingfisher - (2),
Blue Tit - 1,
Long-tailed Tit - 4 (1), r/t adult female
Chiffchaff - 4,
Blackcap - 18,
Adult female Blackcap in active moult
Garden Warbler - 1, a sign that they breed 'on site'
Garden Warbler in wholly juvenile plumage
(note the pale grey collar present in the species)
C. Whitethroat - 1, a 3CY+ female with a good brood patch
Wren - 3 (1), inc. a 2CY r/t male
Dipper 1 (1), a 'this year's' young bird and territorial male in full moult (above)
Blackbird - 2 (1), a new 3CY+ female
Song Thrush - 1, the first for the year
Robin - 2, 
Dunnock - 3 (1), only 1 juv, the rest adult males with pronounced cloacal protuberances
Goldfinch - 1 (1), the r/t was an adult male

I don't split the ages of adult Goldfinches into 2CY and 3CY+ at this time of year (May - August) as differentiation in feather age is nigh on impossible. All adults revert to Euring age class 4 anyway after the moult is complete since they all have new flight feathers.

Well, that's that. The contractors are coming in to mow the rest of the hay crop this coming week which should enable us to visit more of this longitudinal site. I will report back when we have some more news to share with you.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Another beginning on the meadows

The sun shone without any rain in the air for 17 days during the last 3 weeks. Now the weather has broken and the hay that hadn't been brought in is flattened. So far it had been a bumper year of top quality hay. There may be a chance for a recovery this coming week. It'll make life easier for us to get around the meadows, that's for sure.

I digress. We, I say we because I can now get out with a trainee as I'm feeling up to it at last, made our first visit of the year to the local meadows yesterday. The work needed to open up some racks, both new and old, is daunting for these old bones though so we started simple - two nets in the trees and one across the stream.

But back to the beginning. I managed some garden ringing, both before and after our week-long trip to Penwith (the tip of Cornwall). Things started very slowly but by the time we got back, there were a lot of young birds independently on the wing. Naturally, quite a few of these succumbed to being ringed or though one or two thought otherwise.

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers are easily recognised; two pointers are visible with the naked eye from a distance. They all have a "red top", whereas the adults are black-capped, and the under-tail coverts are a delicate shade of pink, not 'post office' red. Close up, you can notice a dull eye and small, white tips to the primaries, too.

Neighbour John, from the far end of the village (but a different parish), caught a Kestrel of mine  earlier in the week that was ringed as a full adult male (t'was nesting nearby). It had only shifted 1.8 km in the 331 days since its release. As I haven't seen it hardly at all this year (on my daily, repetitive walk), I assume it has chosen either another nest site or a new bride. On the same day, he ringed 'a large number' of young Blackcaps, one of which was in my hand by the stream on our first outing here 3 days later. The only species we handled that day were Kingfisher, Chiff., Blackcap, Grey Wag., Blackbird & Goldfinch. We did see a Jay and a Little Egret and heard a Dipper.

Aggregated list of 86 new birds ringed plus 13 ringed individuals, excluding the local inter-changes above, covers 19 species.

At long last - a juvenile Siskin
Kingfisher 2 - juvs
Gt. Spotted Woodpecker 2 - a 2CY female and a juv
Rook 1 - see below; 1 of several that come for food daily
Blue Tit 5 (4) - 1 moulting  2011 male; 3 juvs now in post-juv moult
Great Tit 7 (1) - juvs
Long-tailed Tit 17 - mix-and-match juvs
Chiffchaff 2 - juvs
Blackcap 5 - juvs + 2CY male
Wren 6 - juvs; part of a brood?
Blackbird 5 (1) - juvs; 4 girls, 2 boys
Robin 1 (2) - new bird was a juv just starting PJ moult (breast)
Dunnock 3 (1) - new juvs and a breeding female 
House Sparrow 10 - all this week - it's that time of year again! 1 ad. male
Pied Wagtail (1) - juv
Grey Wagtail 1 - a juv.
Chaffinch 1 (1) - juvs
Greenfinch 11 - 6 boys, 4 girls and a grandad
Goldfinch 6 (3) - the r/ts were all 2CY males
Siskin 1 - juv
Just 9 of these birds were adults. I doubt if any of the juveniles has had a chance to move more than a couple of miles yet so far this season. Even the Lottis!

Adult female Rook
This bird was in full wing moult and still had a bare but wrinkled brood patch
I/we look forward to a few decent sessions down on the meadows before the horses are turned loose from their summer paddocks. Although the site is divided into six fields, there are no gates and two fords! This is limiting in what we can usefully do. We'll have to hurry up and catch those young Kingfishers then! We'll let you know.

Someone's first Kingfisher?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Holiday time and the rain returns

No sooner had I written "we could do with some rain", than we get 16mm overnight, thanks to a belt of thunder-storms coming up from France. Around midday the lights went out as well, care of a lightning strike on an exposed cable nearby, so we had a cup of coffee using the Camping Gaz stove. We had "another dose" of thunder and lightning last night, too. At least it pushed the humid air away somewhere else.

The BTO have kindly sent me a report of a Siskin [Y319780] that I caught in the orchard on 4th February this year. It had travelled at least 167 kilometers (105 miles) since leaving Kings Norton in Birmingham on 14th March 2013 [327 days]. It was a full adult male and where it had finally ended up breeding last year is anybody's guess, but most likely north of Birmingham. 

Male Siskin (library picture)
Local ringer Karen sent me an email enquiring about another Siskin. It turns out to have been ringed by her trainer, Denise, on 25-09-2013 as a 3J, then caught by me on 28-12-2013 and now in her garden this Maytime. It only missed one other local ringer! The other bird she sent me was yet another Siskin, which I had ringed as a 6M on 04-07-12, then got re-caught by John, the fourth ringer, on 03-03-2013 and finally over to Karen's on 03-05-2014. Perhaps Denise's next stop? These little finches are highly mobile (as I found out in Norfolk) and move around seeking the right food at the right time and shifting their nest sites between broods as well. 

The weather has mainly been unsettled or full sun since last time. However, it has recently deteriorated, but it has been warm for the most part. The garden is full of young birds busy trying to feed themselves on whatever they can find that suits. At this time of year the feeders do not empty as fast as they usually do since the number one job for the birds is to hunt out insects that we consider pests and they consider delicious. 
Young Goldfinch
Degraded male Blackbird retrices

Also, the main consumers, Goldfinches, are virtually absent during late May to early August. The thing that is shifting like no tomorrow is dried meal-worms - parenting Robins, all manner of Blackbirds, but first and foremost, the Pied Wagtails. Our cat is also partial to a few! (meal-worms, that is). The Jackdaws rob out the suet pellets before anything else can get a share, too. Expensive time of year!

I chucked out some stale dog food onto the lawn one afternoon. Low and behold, seventeen, yes, 17, Herring Gulls swooped in all at once and removed it in ten seconds flat!! Three pairs are currently nesting on neighbours 'roofs' and there are some dozen or so pairs actively nesting in the village. Next door's have lost two wee youngsters from their chimney-pot nest site. Both rolled out down the roof onto the car spaces; the second one was quickly snaffled by the local Sparrowhawk in front of the owners' son and his girlfriend. Mum & dad HERGU weren't best pleased! They soon forgot about it/them.

Day-old HERGU chick
Over fifteen days to 7th June, I managed to catch, intermittently, the following:

"Think you're a big boy! Wait 'til I get hold of yer! I'll make y' squeal!"
[Juvenile Blue Tit - soon after fledging]

Woodpigeon 2
Rook 2 - 1 of each sex
Goldcrest (1) - breeding female
Blue Tit 36 (3) - 10 adults & 29 juvs
Great Tit 11 (2) - 10 juvs & 1 adult male hatched in 2011
Coal Tit 1 - 1st juv of the year
Reed Warbler 1 - NFY, "quelle surprise"
Wren (1) - adult female with BP
Blackbird 10 (4) - 9 juvs in this total
Robin 10 (4) - new birds all juvs, retraps = parents, incl. 2 females hatched 2011
Dunnock 1 (1) - promptly disappeared, must be nesting again 
House Sparrow 9 (3) - juvs but retraps were 2 males & 1 female
Pied Wagtail 6 (1) - ALL JUVS except r/t 2CY male
Chaffinch 7 (1) - 6 of 7 juvs were male(?) on size
Greenfinch 10 - juv sexes in equal numbers plus a fresh breeding pair
Goldfinch 11 (2) - 9 juvs, plus 2 new males, a "2014" female (aged 4), and a male that was one of the first birds I ever ringed here as an adult in January 2011. 
Bullfinch (1) - 2CY female in breeding condition

17 species, 117 new birds, 24 recaptures from previous dates/blogs

Juvenile Greenfinch, post-fledging
NB. All the photos (I mean snaps!) are my own, taken with a Fujifilm compact.