Archive for the ‘Bearded Tit’ Tag

Mid to late August 2015: The Bird Fair, lots of ringing and a Bird Race.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visit to the Birdfair and some ringing at Lytchett Bay and Durlston plus a postscipt about a late August Poole Harbour big day.

The annual British Birding Fair, normally just refered to as the Birdfair  is held at Rutland Water near Oakham in Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. Over the three days an estimated 20,000 visitors visits hundreds of stands and go to hundreds of talks and other events. All profits go to Birdlife International and during its lifespan the event has raised 2.5 million for bird conservation.

Now in its 27th year, the Fair seems to just keep growing and growing. There are so many marquees, stands, exhibits and talks to go to that it is impossible to do it justice in one day. What I enjoy more than anything is meeting up with loads of friends from previous trips abroad, old twitches in the UK or fellow birders from back home.

IMG_6402 Royal George hotel

On the 21st and 22nd of August we paid our annual visit to the British Bird Fair at Rutland Water. We stayed overnight some 12 miles away at this pleasant hotel at Cottingham but unfortunately they didn’t do breakfast (which we had already paid for) until after 9 am, far too late as we wanted to be at the Fair by then.

Book signing at the Wild Sounds stand

This photo of book signing on the Wildsounds stand was taken at a previous Bird Fair and shows a typical view of the Birdfair – large numbers of birders perusing books, trying out optics, planning future birding holidays etc.

IMG_6373 WEO

One of the unusual thing about the Birdfair is that ‘wildlife celebrities’ wander around from event to event with all the rest of us and you can find that the bloke in the row in front of you at a talk is none other than Bill Oddie.

IMG_6376 Swifts need you too

Stands selling or promoting wildlife tours and various countries, outdoor clothing, books, optics and wildlife art are joined by numerous conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International and Swift Conservation (above).

One talk I especially wanted to go to was by Magnus Robb of the Sound Approach. After his discovery of the Omani Owl in March 2013, which he described as a new species at the time, it has been shown by others that the old type specimen of the closely related Hume’s Owl is a different species from all the other Hume’s Owls (ie those that that are regularly seen in the Levant and Arabia). It has been speculated that the type specimen of ‘Hume’s Owl’, which was collected in Pakistan 135 years ago, is in fact an Omani Owl. Magnus confirmed that their DNA analysis of feathers from a recently trapped Omani Owl proved this to be the case and in addition an owl found trapped on someone’s balcony in north-east Iran also proved to be an Omani Owl. So instead of discovering a new species, the Sound Approach rediscovered one that hadn’t been seen for 135 years and extended it’s range from two narrow wadis in Oman’s Al Hajar mountains to an area that covers NE Iran and southern Pakistan, although of course not all areas in this vast range will actually hold Omani Owls.

For more details see http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Sound_Approach_Unravelling_the_mystery_of_the_Omani_Owl.aspx?s_id=519400636

For an interview of Magnus Robb by Martin Garner go to https://soundcloud.com/birdingfrontiers

For my account of my trip to Oman to see Omani Owl see https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/1st-9th-february-2014-the-omani-owl-twitch/

IMG_6390 Omani Owl resolved

Magnus shows a photo of the Iranian example of Omani Owl.

IMG_6398 DIMW talk

Perhaps the most entertaining talk was in the evening of the 21st was an account of ‘best days birding in Britain’ from Bill Oddie, Adam Rowlands, Lucy McRobert and Ian Wallace. Each gave a short account of their most outstanding day in the UK. All but one account was about a day full of migrants and rarities but Lucy told of the day she saw all four species of grouse in Scotland. Her best line was when she described a male Capercaillie as the ‘most magnificent cock I’ve ever seen’.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

DIM (Ian) Wallace, here talking to another birding legend Killian Mullarney, is a true legend of the birding scene. Now in his eighties he is known for his eccentric manner, evocative paintings, editorship of the groundbreaking BWP handbooks, his many pioneering identification articles and his indefatigable rarity finding. Some of his discoveries have been mocked by a later generation of rarity experts but we can say that without doubt that many of the field criteria that are routinely used today were first established by DIMW.

The BTO were holding a ringing demonstration and nearby they had a poster showing all foreign UK ringing recoveries accrued over the 100+ years of the ringing scheme. Of course they can’t label every dot to species, so it is interesting to speculate which species are involved in the far-flung recoveries. Without doing any additional research I guess that the concentration off Labrador/Newfoundland would refer to seabirds like Kittiwake, Fulmars and Great Skuas, the coastal South American ones would almost entirely be Manx Shearwaters, coastal southern Africa are various tern species, the Cape and Natal are Barn Swallows, the Australian and southern oceans are Artcic Terns. Presumably most recoveries from the Levant are Lesser Whitethroats but what species were recovered in Canada just east of the Rockies, in interior South America, in Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and far eastern Russia on the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk? Note the paucity of recoveries from north-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, showing that with the exception of Lesser Whitethroats few if any British birds enter African via this flyway.

IMG_6403 Ring recoveries map

A map of all BTO ringing recoveries.

The above map leads on nicely to my bird ringing which has kept me pretty busy during this month. Early (0430) starts, the need to keep up to date with uploading the data collected and in addition, my attempts to collate a lot of the data and other articles into a long-awaited ringing group report has meant that I have had little time to work on this blog. But there again its better to be busy in retirement than to sit around watching day-time TV as many retirees do!

I have been trying to get to Durlston as often as I can during the month, hindered though by the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing. Unlike some ringing stations where the ringers live on site and can quickly respond to changes in the weather, Durlston is a 30 minute drive away, so we don’t usually visit on days that start wet then clear later, or are characterised by intermittent rain. That said this ‘autumn’ we have made nine visits in August and three in July, ringed 658 birds of 28 species with a further 127 birds ringed in the spring.

IMG_6362 adult gropper

This time of year is the most interesting both in terms of the variety of species we ring and also in the range of age classes that we see. Freshly fledged juveniles, birds in the middle of the partial post-juvenile moult, freshly moulted first years, juveniles of species like Long-tailed Tit that have a full wing moult soon after fledging, adults in active wing moult, adults that have completed their moult and abraded adults that defer moulting until they reach their winter quarters (like this adult Grasshopper Warbler) can all be seen during the same ringing session.

IMG_6370 Common Redstart - better

One of the most attractive migrants that we see at Durlston is the Common Redstart, this first year was ringed on  18th August ….

IMG_6369 Black Redstart juv

…. on the same day we also trapped this juvenile Black Redstart, a much rarer species that we have only ringed once before. In view of the scarcity of this species and that this bird is a recently fledged juvenile, it is possible that this bird is the offspring of the adult female we ringed on 23rd April this year. Incidently we also trapped a Common Redstart on 23rd April meaning we have had two double-redstart days this year. Photos of the adult birds in April can be seen on an earlier post on this blog.

IMG_6417 Lytchett Heath

We have also been ringing at Lytchett Bay. As well as our usual site in the reeds near the River Sherford we have also been using a new site at Lytchett Heath which has been very productive both in terms of the number of birds ringed but also in the number of controls (birds previously ringed by others) we have encountered. I hope to post a summary of recent recoveries/controls in a future post.

IMG_6414 Lytchett Heath

On a cold morning the dew on the cobwebs is most photogenic …

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

…. even more so when the sun rises.

IMG_6365 juv Beardie

This recently fledged Bearded Tit, a species that has recently been placed in its own family, was one of the highlights of a recent ringing session.

P1180532 Bluethroat TE LB

But the real highlight of our recent ringing was this first year male Bluethroat that was trapped on 29th August. We had a public ringing demonstration for the sites owners, Dorset Wildlife Trust, at Lytchett Heath and most of the group were there to help. Some opted to ring near the River Sherford where this bird was trapped. There was just enough time before the demo for those interested to rush over from the heath to the Sherford (leaving the heath site well manned of course) to see it before it was released. Photo by Terry Elborn.

Bluethroat 3 Lyt bay 29.08

The eponymous blue on the throat shows that this bird is a male. At least two populations occur in Europe, white-spotted birds in southern/central Europe and red-spotted ones in Scandinavia but the ‘spot’ within the blue of the throat can only be seen on spring males. At this time of year it is most likely that this bird is of the red-spotted race. Photo by Bob Gifford.

And finally on 30th August sixteen, mainly local, birders took part in a Poole Harbour bird race, that means keeping within the geographic boundaries shown in the Sound Approach’s ‘Catching the Bug’. I have always been keen on doing a January bird race as it seems a great way of kicking off the New Year and it is a good way to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen since before Christmas. During my working years I was always busy when the idea of an August Poole Harbour race, with just two per team, was first mooted. Initially I wasn’t too keen this time either, but when Margaret said she would like to join me we formed a team.

Unlike the keenest we weren’t up at 0430 to try for owls and nightjars but started birding in the Studland area at 0700. We had a stroke of luck when we bumped into Mike Gould and Tom Carly just after they had found a Wryneck, but after that most of the rest of the day was predictable. After birding around Studland we visited the southern edge of Poole Harbour, Middlebere, Arne, Swineham and Lytchett Bay (where the wader bonanza really boosted the list) Having reached the ‘ton’ and with Margaret having hurt her leg getting out of the car we decided to quit but after freshening up we headed for the post-race gathering and managed to pick up two more species, Yellow-legged Gull in Holes Bay and Jay in Poole Park giving us a final score of 102.

With Margaret being the least experienced of the twelve participants and with us taking a fairly relaxed approach it was clear from the onset that we weren’t going to win, but we didn’t come last. The winners, the Sound Approach’s Paul Morton and Nick Hopper, set a new record for birds seen/heard in one day in Poole Harbour with a score of 130, smashing the previous best of 123.

The following pictures show most or all of the participants plus Marie and Mo who came along for the evening. Out usual pub was packed solid with a ‘sausage festival’, the next had run out of beer(!), a third was  closed, so we settled with the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ with a very nice curry at nearby Tandori Nights.

IMG_6418 post race drinks1

L-R: Marie Smith, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull, Mark Constantine, Mike Gould, Tom Carley, Paul Morton (straight from the race still with his wellies on) Nick Hopper and Shaun Robson.

IMG_6422 bird race drinks2

In addition this photo shows: Steve W Smith (standing far left – his position not his politics), Peter Moore, James Phillips, Steve F Smith, Terry Elborn, Margaret and in bottom right Nick Hull.

Late July – early August 2015: the start of the autumn ringing season and a birthday on a boat.   Leave a comment

I haven’t uploaded anything to the blog since I reported on our week in East Anglia, Leeds and Derbyshire as I have been very busy preparing for the main bird ringing season.

Although we ring birds throughout the year, the maximum activity both from the birds and from the ringers is in the ‘autumn’ period from mid July to mid November. Many people roll their eyes when you describe late July as ‘autumn’ with comments like ‘we haven’t even had summer yet’ but if you’re to describe the northbound birds in March, April and May as being on spring migration, then the south bound movement which can start as early as June and is well underway by mid to late July must be the autumn migration. Indeed in early June late northbound migrants like Sanderling and some Reed Warblers can overlap with southbound ones like Green Sandpipers.

As July progresses local breeders leave their natal area and disperse and the first long distant passerine migrants like Sedge and Willow Warblers reach our sites. To continue to monitor the numbers and movements of these birds we need to be ready.

IMG_6258 FLC net ride1

The first thing that needs to be done is to clear all our ringing areas of several months of bramble, black thorn, fern, gorse and nettle growth. In some locations a strimmer can be used in others local regulations mean it has to be done with a pair of shears. This net ride is at our Fleets Lane site in Poole.

IMG_6269 Garden Warbler 3

July/August is the most fascinating time of the year for the ringer as young birds have either to start/are undergoing/or have completed the post-juvenile moult and adults are undergoing a full or partial moult depending on moult strategy of the species concerned. This 1st year Garden Warbler has undergone it’s partial post-juvenile moult before migrating and will undergo a complete moult during the winter in Africa. This species is very much the exception in the Sylvid babblers (members of this genus have been shown to be babblers and are not related to other warblers at all) as adults also have a complete moult in Africa. In almost all of the other Sylvias adults have a complete moult before migrating and hence have fresh plumage just like 1st year birds, making ageing more tricky.

IMG_6273 juv male Blackcap

Another common Sylvid babbler is the Blackcap. Juveniles of both sexes have dark brown crowns and the black cap of the male only appears during the post-juvenile moult. This is thought to be an evolutionary strategy that prevents the adult male treating his own sons as rivals.

IMG_6263 juv Blackcap wing

A partial post-juvenile moult means that the bird replaces body feathers on the head, body and on some or all of the wing coverts but not the primaries, secondaries or tail. Often the primary coverts and one or more of the outer greater coverts remain unmoulted as can be seen in this Blackcap. After the moult is complete careful evaluation of the contrast between (in this case) the single unmoulted outer greater covert and the new inner ones will allow this bird to be aged as a 1st year until it has a full moult at this time in 2016.

IMG_6254 Gt Spot juv wing

To show how complicated this moult business is, take a look at this juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker (you will have to take my word that it has the red crown of a juvenile). Although it is only a few months old it is already undergoing a full moult with four outer primaries still to be replaced, the 5th growing and the rest completed. Strangely in its 1st year this species moults either none or some (but not all) of its primary coverts, so in the spring the primaries are fresh and the coverts are abraded.

IMG_6337 Lytchett Bay

This time of year is by far the best for ringing at our rather muddy site at Lytchett Bay. Reed and Sedge Warblers are present in abundance and there is always a remote possibility of the ringing the globally endangered Aquatic Warbler that passes through in very small numbers.

IMG_6261 Kingfisher

As well as Acrocepahalus warblers we also ring small numbers of Kingfishers every autumn. These birds move down the rivers to the estuaries after breeding. Usually only one or two are present at the site but up to twelve are been ringed annualy showing an ongoing migration. We often catch a bird we have ringed in previous years and one of our birds was re-trapped in Totten, Southampton.

IMG_6339 Kingfisher

Kingfishers can be aged by the colour of the upper surfaces of their (tiny) feet, smoky in 1st years, orange in adults. The colour of the base of the lower mandible can be used to sex them, orange tones in females (in this photo) and black in males (as in the previous photo), although this difference is more marked in adults.

IMG_6340 Lytchett fields

The RSPB has been managing some of the fields at Lytchett Bay and has built a view-point overlooking one of the ponds and has just installed an information board ….

IMG_6341 no pubic access

…. on exactly the same day that Wessex Water put up this sign on the lane that leads to the viewpoint (and to their water treatment works). Talk about a lack of joined up thinking!

IMG_6276 Bearded Tit LH

On the other side of Lytchett Bay is Lytchett Heath, an area owned by Dorset Wildlife Trust. We have permission to ring on the heath and nearby reedbeds. A busy morning last week resulted in the capture of over 100 birds including this male Bearded Tit. This is another bird of uncertain affinities, it certainly isn’t a tit, it has been allied with the Asian parrotbills, but now resides in a family of its own. It’s English name is also controversal, not a tit, so the name Bearded Reedling has been used, but it’s not ‘bearded’ either. I suppose Moustached Reedling would be a step too far.

IMG_6278 juv Redstart

The most surprising bird at our Lytchett Heath session was this Common Redstart in full juvenile plumage. Birds are not thought to migrate until they have almost completed their post-juvenile moult, so this bird probably hatched nearby. Although relatively numerous in the New Forest, this is a scarce breeder in Dorset, for example the 2011 Dorset Bird Report mentions just three sites, seven singing males and four fledged young for the whole county.

IMG_6280 juv Redstart LH

The name of the 14 Old World species of redstart, is derived from the colour of their tail, the Old English for tail being ‘steort’. Pioneer ornithologists in America found an unrelated bird (now classified as a New World Warbler) with red in the tail and called it American Redstart, but the name ‘redstart’ was carried over to a multitude of related warblers in the Neotropics, all of which have white not red in the tail. Recent attempts to rename these Neotropical warblers as ‘whitestarts’ has met with ambivalence.

IMG_6282 Poole Quay

In complete contrast to my early morning and muddy ringing sessions we attended a lovely birthday celebration hosted by our friend, fellow birder and moth-er from Swanage, Phyl England.

IMG_6287 Phyl and Paul

Phyl, here seen with Paul Morton, is celebrating her 80th, yes 80th birthday!

IMG_6300 Phyl's birthday cruise

Of course, as the hired Brownsea ferry cruised around the islands of Poole Harbour, we celebrated in the traditional manner.

IMG_6294 Brownsea castle

I was expecting that we would sail around the back of Brownsea, past the castle and the lagoon and return to Poole Quay ….

IMG_6297 South Haven

…. but instead we went past the Haven Hotel and out of the harbour mouth ….

IMG_6307-Old-Harry

…. towards the rock pinnacles of Old Harry.

IMG_6309 Old Harry

Indeed we went so far past Old Harry that we wondered if Phyl and her family had arranged to be dropped off at Swanage.

IMG_6311 Moon rise

Expecting a mainly social event, I had only brought my pocket camera so I couldn’t do justice to this beautiful red moonrise.

IMG_6323 Sandbanks ferry

It was almost dark by the time we passed the Studland ferry re-entered the harbour.

IMG_6326 full moon

…. and with the full moon shining on the water ….

IMG_6329 Poole Quay at night

…. we got back to Poole Quay about 2220. Thank you very much for a lovely evening Phyl.

IMG_6350 Janis and Kitzie

And finally Margaret’s daughter Janis has been looking after this little dog, Kitzie, for a friend.

IMG_6342 M and Kitzie1

I’m not much of a dog person, but have to admit that he was quite endearing (and no, we have no plans to get one).

6th-14th December 2014 – Three musical events, an unconvincing ghost, a quiz and some ringing.   Leave a comment

 

wells_1486665c

In 1898 HG Wells wrote one of the first science fiction novels, War of the Worlds which depicted the invasion of Earth by Martians, I remember reading the book as a teenager. Of course like all science fiction it is deeply rooted in the values and concepts of the time that it was written (we wouldn’t think today that aliens would only be interested in invading England and that anyone who wanted to escape would merely have to get on a boat to some foreign location) but it remains one of the most enduring examples of the genre. In 1978 Jeff Wayne produced a very successful musical version of the story which he has recently revived as a stage show. We were able to see this excellent show at the BIC in Bournemouth on the 11th.

IMG_3972 WOTW

The show was full of technical wizardry, a band and an orchestra played in front of the huge screen which depicted the narrative, but also players sang and acted out the story on the stage.

IMG_3973 Brian McFadden

The story is narrated by a journalist who is caught up in the Martian invasion, his role is part sung by Brian McFadden ….

IMG_4014 Liam Neeson in WOTW

… and part spoken by a ‘virtual’ Liam Neeson, who appears in this panel over the stage or as a life size hologram on stage which was able to virtually interact with other characters.

IMG_3974 Martians emerge

As the story develops the Martians invade.

IMG_3985 Martian Fighting Machine

A 35ft high Martian fighting machine appears on the stage …

IMG_3988 Martian Fighting Machine

… and proceeds to belch real flames over the audience.

IMG_4009 Beth and Nathaniel in WOTW

One of my favourite parts was the duet between Parson Nathaniel (Jason Donovan) and his wife Beth (Carrie Hope Fletcher) as to whether the invaders are Martians or demons.

IMG_4003 Red Weed

The red weed that HG Wells claims gave Mars its red colour takes over the countryside.

IMG_4012 the Artiliaryman

The infantryman (Shane Ward) claims that the survivors can build cities underground away from the invaders but soon after the Earth’s bacteria kill off the Martians and bring the story to its conclusion (well almost).

IMG_4020 WOTW the cast

Brian McFadden, Joseph Whelan, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Shane Ward and Jason Donovan take a bow. It was a fantastic concert, flawlessly executed with no technical hitches (in spite of the potential difficulty in coordinating so many aspects of the performance) with great performances from musicians and actors alike.

IMG_1312 Gaunt's House concert

In complete contrast on the 13th we went to a dinner and musical performance at Gaunt’s House, a old stately home now run as a spiritual retreat, situated to the north of Wimborne. A very talented pianist played pieces by Schubert and a tenor accompanied him singing pieces by Schumann, Ravel and others. Although beautifully performed these ‘lieders’, short songs sung in German, mean little to me but I did enjoy the Schubert. After the interval we all took part in a carol concert.

IMG_1315 Daphne at Gaunt's House

Our connection with Gaunt’s House is that Daphne, (centre), a fellow member of the Phoenix (formerly Nexus) organisation works there. We joined several Phoenix members and others for a ‘ghost walk’ around the upper corridors and rooms of this extensive house.

IMG_1314 ghost

Although potentially scary in the darkened room, the flash on my camera revealed the ‘ghost’ ……

IMG_1316 ghost

… to be no more than a member of staff in a sheet who managed to run ahead of the tour and hide in each unlit room before the group arrived.

IMG_4027 St Peter's Church

The following day Margaret’s choir performed their Christmas concert at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone.

IMG_4031 orchestra

The Barclay House Choir have a new conductor/musical director Helen Brind and I was pleased to see that she maintained the high standard of her predecessor. Margaret is on the left of the next to top row, my old work colleague Ann Hitchcoe is to her right and our friend Christine third from the left on the front row. The orchestra is led by Andrew Foot.

IMG_4036 Abbi Temple

Soloist soprano Abbi Temple had a wonderful voice.

IMG_1297 quiz night

Spot the birder! L-R Mark Constantine, Trevor Warwick, Tom Carly, Jackie Hull (Nick joined us later), Shaun Robson, Mo Constantine, Mike Gould, Marcus Lawson, Richard Webb, Nick Hopper, Bob Gifford, Ewan Brodie, Terry Elborne, Roger Howell, Steve W Smith and me. Years ago I used to set pretty difficult bird quizzes for the Dorset Bird Club, fortunately the baton has been taken up by Paul Morton who set a really challenging quiz on the 8th December. We all lined up to be randomly selected into teams. I must admit our team didn’t do well (my excuse was that I was still suffering jet lag) but what really let us down was a round of bird name anagrams, I have to admit that my mind just doesn’t ‘do’ anagrams and that seemed to apply to all my team.

IMG_1294 Margaret at quiz night

Thanks were due not only to Paul but also for Mark and Mo Constantine who made LUSH digital centre available for the quiz. Margaret opted not to be in a quiz and relaxed in the corner.

IMG_1317 Woodpigeon

With some new traps I have been doing a bit of ringing in the garden, this Woodpigeon was an unexpected catch – and quite a handful too.

IMG_1308 Rock Pipit

But the best ringing took place on 13th at Lytchett Bay where we caught an interesting variety of birds including this Rock Pipit. Following the Shaun’s capture a Belgian ringed Rock Pipit recently (we are awaiting details of where and when it as ringed) we have decided to renew our efforts to trap Rock Pipits, particularly as we think that those wintering on the saltmarsh may be of the Scandinavian race littoralis. We also ringed a Stonechat, several Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Cettis’ Warblers and Chiffchaffs ….

IMG_1302 beardies

… and also these gorgeous Bearded Tits.

IMG_1303 beardie

Of all the birds we ring, the male Bearded Tit has to be one of the most beautiful. Being a scarce bird that it is somewhat irruptive and nomadic ringing ‘beardies’ is very worthwhile as previous long distance movements have shown. I mentioned earlier that I had two new trainees, Rik and Ginny, they have been joined by a third, Emma. With three people to train I shall attempt to put even more effort into my ringing activities in 2015.