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, 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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

New life and better weather

The garden could do with some rain after this run of fine, warm weather that we have enjoyed. This welcome state of affairs is not always conducive to our ringing efforts though, as it has served up two of the three detrimental elements, namely full sun and stiff breezes (the third being moderate to heavy rain).

It has been 17 days since I reported in last and during that time many more young birds have fledged and are busy finding their way in life without their parents being there all the time. The grown-ups have also started re-nesting and at least one Robin and one Blackbird pair are on eggs once more. The gaping of more tiny mouths is expected shortly.

Some new species for the year have been ringed and some "old friends" have been tempted into the nets and an old trap that I dug out.

Male Pied Wagtail first ringed as a juvenile on 12-12-2012

Juvenile female Greenfinch, one of two ringed

Fledgling Dunnock, one of four trapped

2CY female Common Redstart, a locally common breeder 
John and I usually manage to catch around four Redstarts between us in our gardens each spring. The dates can be as early as mid April or as late as June.

The results of two weeks limited ringing in the garden.
Rook 1 - female didn't quite make it safely off the bird table
Blue Tit (3) - a young female and 2 older males, one born 2010, the other is that or older
Great Tit 7 (1) - a new pair and 5 offspring, the other a brooding female
Chifchaff 1 - a new 2CY male (that was singing against the 'resident' male)
Blackbird 5 (5) - 4 youngsters and a new, mature male; 2 mature males, a female and a "new" 2CY pair were recaptured. We know we have 3 pairs nesting.
Robin 3 (5) - 3 new and 4 re-trapped juveniles and a "dad".
Redstart 1 - 2CY female (above)
Dunnock 4 (3) - 4 new fledglings plus 2 males and a female
House Sparrow 3 (3) - 2 barely fledged and a new male plus 3 females coming to millet to feed their young in nests in the nearby industrial estate buildings
Pied Wagtail (2) - a probable pair that feed on the lawns. Up to 6 birds present, 1 unringed female.
Chaffinch 1 (1) - first 3J (juvenile) of the season and a 2012 male
Greenfinch 6 - 2 juvs, 3 males and a 2CY female in egg 
Goldfinch (3) - all old males from 2011 and 2012
Siskin 6 (1) - 4 females and 3 males, all nesting locally
Bullfinch 2 (1) - a new pair and a re-trap male, all 2CY
15 species, 40 new, 28 re-traps.    [2CY = in second calendar year, i.e. "maiden"]

Still having a mix of bad days and good days; shingles starting to ameliorate at last.

A disaster befell us, too. We noticed that there weren't any tadpoles in the pond. There had been a thousand or more wee ones previously. The pond was a very dark green with lesser duckweed on the surface - but no taddies. Either there was no food or insufficient oxygen or the one night of frost might have done the damage. You know who got in and drained it, scrubbed it and re-filled it with rainwater from one of the butts.

The empty and clean pond

Bye for now!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Summer's set fair?

Well. We hope it is going to be a good summer, with plenty of warm sunshine and enough rain not to spoil things but enough to keep the garden/veggies growing. Nice and average will do. And that would also suit the birds during their breeding season.

With the recent sunny weather, coupled with a cold easterly breeze, and maximum garden temperatures (in shade, around 2pm BST) in the high teens, and topping 20C on a couple of occasions,  the birds have melted away. From time to time, one or two turn up for food, either for themselves or for hungry chicks, and forget where the (two) nets are. Some strangers have also paid us a visit; we showed our gratitude with a unique gift of a BTO/Porzana crafted bracelet.  

A late Chiffchaff that was caught was thought to be newly in. Identified as a female (on size), she had no signs of a brood patch and her tail was very abraded and faded, pointing to a bird that was hatched last year. Our two males had been "giving it some wellie" the morning she was caught, trying to out-do one another. I wonder who won her favour?

Miss Chiffchaff HCE511
Post mortem on last week (no birds were harmed in the making of this list (or any other)):
Great Spotted Woodpecker* 1 - adult (6) male on the fat balls
Blue Tit (2) - 2 different aged males
Great Tit (1) - adult (6) female with "the wrinkles" 
Chiffchaff 2 - incl. a (2CY?) female with an unmoulted tail
Blackcap 1 - 2CY female
Whitethroat* 1 - 2CY with a partially moulted tail
Wren 1 (1)
Blackbird 2 (2) - two new males and the pair from over the hedge
Robin 6 (4) - mum, dad and all 8 offspring; out-and-about from 29th April
Dunnock (3) 
House Sparrow 3 (3) - low fliers; new birds = males, oldest first ringed Dec 2011.
Pied Wagtail (1) - male first caught as a 2CY last August
Greenfinch (1) -
Goldfinch (3)
Siskin 2 - a breeding pair from nearby
18 new, 21 recaptures, *= NFY species

Newcomers for the 2014 list:

No.27 - Gt. Spot Woodpecker (6M on primaries)

No. 26 - Common Whitethroat (5(f) on eye colour, etc)
The wind has changed direction and is now a force 4 sou'wester. We are expecting to see our first Swifts returning over the village tomorrow ahead of a front that will bring rain and showers for the rest of the week. A Cuckoo was seen/heard on 27th April on the outskirts of the village and we have/had a brood of 6 ducklings on the stream. 

I'm still only netting in the garden as I'm still fighting off the latter stages of "the shingles". Feels like I've been shot in the shoulder. Arghh!  I'm also off back to Bedford for a couple of days, so little chance of any ringing this week and consequently the next blog will be mid-month.

PS. Swifts arrived early morning on Monday 5th. 
PPS. Stu, a friend up the village, has also had young Siskins and Dunnocks being fed in his small garden last week.