Archive for the ‘Durlston Country Park’ Tag

March 2020 to May 2021 – what’s been going on during the pandemic?   Leave a comment

My most recent post was about my trip to Suriname in March 2020. I returned home on 13th and the first lockdown was imposed within a week. That was in force until early June when some restrictions were lifted, but not all. For the rest of the year there was (or at least seems to have been) a never ending re-imposing and then lifting of restrictions until just after Christmas when major restrictions were once again in force. Most of these are now eased but we are still not free to travel abroad.

I’m not criticising the restrictions, indeed I feel they should have been imposed earlier, but clearly they have had a major effect on my life, just like everyone else in the country (and the world).

We’ve been very lucky, relatives and friends have caught this awful disease but no-one we know has died from it, although one friend is unable to work due to the affects of ‘long Covid’.

Being retired our income has not been affected and although foreign travel has been out of the question, we have been able to go for walks locally, go birding and see other aspects of the natural world close to home, which is one of the great advantages of having an interest in wildlife – it can be found anywhere.

I’ve now slept in my own bed every night for 15 months, the longest such period in my entire life. I’m itching to go somewhere where I can see some life birds. I’ve had a never-ending series (possibly up to ten) booked foreign trips that have either had to be cancelled or rebooked for a future year. We will be going to Scotland in the near-future but but my real joy, birding in some far-flung part of the world, remains unfulfilled.

Here are a few photos from the last fifteen months. I’ve largely given up carrying a ‘proper’ camera at home, I damaged my shoulder last year and can’t manage both a camera and a scope + tripod and as a result quite a few of these photos have been taken by others.

 

So from mid March to the start of June we were restricted to a daily exercise walk (ie bit of birding) close to home. Fortunately I have three good areas within walking distance of home, Lytchett Bay, Holes Bay/Upton Park and Upton Heath. In addition I watched a lot of birds in the garden such as this male Common Starling.

 

Initially the Ringing Office of the BTO said we could not ring birds away from our own property, they later rescinded this providing we gathered in suitably small numbers, socially distanced and checked that landowners did not object. However we were requested to ring birds in our gardens wherever possible to allow the flow of data about our common birds to continue. Some people consider that ringing is all about studying migration routes and now that data loggers can gather so much information from a very few birds captured, large scale ringing is redundant. However by recording the fat and muscle state, weight, size, moult condition and age much is discovered about the birds by continuing to ring on a large scale. Trackers/data loggers are expensive and can only give data on a tiny percent of the population. Here my mist net is set up in the garden. You can clearly see the pole that holds the net on the left but to all intents and purposes on a still day, the net is invisible if viewed again a dark background. In spring 2020 I ringed over 150 Starlings in the garden and was able to study the progress of the complete post-juvenile moult (a moult strategy which only occurs in a handful of species in the UK). Quite a number have been retrapped this spring whilst others have been recovered elsewhere in Dorset.

 

With the very cold spring and lack of invertebrates, the number of Starlings are far smaller this year. However I did get a major surprise (and a nasty nip) when I found this juvenile Carrion Crow in my net recently. Like many crows it shows evidence of partial albinism which may be caused by a lack of the correct nutrients at a critical stage of development.

 

At the start of June 2020 some restrictions were lifted and we were able to ring outside our property again.

 

My favourite site, Durlston isn’t very good at this time of year so I made quite a few attempts at Lytchett Heath, a part of Lytchett Bay.

 

At this time of year we were able to ring a number of breeding Reed and Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings and Stonechats.

 

We caught a Jay here this spring, quite a stunner but also quite a noisy and aggressive bird in the hand.

 

One aspect of ringing that I particularly enjoy is training new ringers. This is Joe who works for the charity Bird of Poole Harbour holding a Kestrel we trapped at Durlston. During the summer of 2020 he was always up for ringing at Lytchett and although numbers ringed were small (at least early in the summer before return migration started) it aided his training and provide information on local breeding birds. Joe has since obtained his ringing licence and is fitting in as much ringing as he possibly can.

 

One of the best birds we regularly catch at Lytchett Bay are Bearded Reedlings (or Bearded Tits) which breed in the wet and very muddy reedbeds. This is an adult male.

 

The bird we are most interested in ringing at Lytchett Bay is the Aquatic Warbler. I once wrote a blog post just about this species see see here . We have now ringed 99 Aquatic Warblers over the years (not just at Lytchett Bay) and ringing often reveals the presence of this species in areas where birders just can’t reach such as dense reed and sedge beds, In 2020 we were lucky to catch this bird on 12th August. Unlike the vast majority of the Aquatics we’ve ringed, it was an adult and could be sexed as a female due to the remnants of a brood patch. Even more amazingly the same bird was retrapped in Palencia, central Spain 16 days and 983km later. In truth I wasn’t there when it was trapped (I was having a much needed rest from ringing due to multiple early starts) but I received a phone call as soon as it was found and as the site is less than a mile from my house, I was there before they had finished processing it.

 

For much of the autumn I spent as much time as I could at the beautiful Durlston Country Park, just south of Swanage. It takes me less than 30 minutes to drive the 18 miles from home pre-dawn but once the ‘grockles’ are about in the summer it can take an hour to get back.

 

Our ringing site is in a fenced off area at the highest point of the park. Migrants tend to move towards this area during the first few hours but unfortunately being the highest point its not that sheltered and wind can disrupt our ringing. From July to November I was able to visit 50 times and we ringed over 3800 birds of 47 species. I have written up all the data, with multiple charts and graphs and presented it to the park managers and county bird recorder.

 

Of course the main reason to ring birds at Durlston is to study common birds, which at this site during peak migration is Willow Warbler in August and Chiffchaff and Blackcap in September and October. These three species make up the bulk of the birds processed. This Willow Warbler is unusually grey and might be of the Scandinavian race acredula.

 

In August lots of Tree Pipits fly overhead and we manage to ring quite a few but after the first week of September they are replaced by Meadow Pipits (shown above), there is surprisingly little overlap between these two similar species. Surprisingly we have had more recoveries of Tree Pipit (one in Wales and one in Scotland) than we have had the commoner Meadow Pipits.

 

By mid October most warblers have moved through but its a good time to ring finches and Goldcrests and if you’re lucky a few Firecrests (shown above) as well.

 

Scarcer birds, particularly in August include Pied Flycatcher …

 

… and Spotted Flycatcher, both seem to have declined in recent years, particularly Spotted of which are annual totals have varied from one to eight over the last ten years.

 

Sparrowhawks are such magnificent birds in the hand that the occasional capture of one delights the newer ringers. Before you ring one you have to determine the sex and males take a smaller ring size than females. The grey head and mantle indicates a male but wing length is the deciding factor.

 

We were lucky enough to catch a female Sparrowhawk this spring, the brown mantle and larger size made it easy to sex.

 

There is one aspect of ringing that isn’t appreciated by most (who think its all about studying migration) and that is recording moult. This male Stonechat was ringed at the end of May. It can be aged as a 1st year ie hatched in 2020 by the very worn flight feathers. Adults will have undergone a complete moult a month or so after the juveniles grow their feathers and the feathers are usually of a better quality, so are less worn by the following spring. In addition it can be seen that this bird has moulted the greater covers, tertials and some tail feathers as well as the body feathers. The primaries, primary coverts, secondaries and the central and outer pair of tail feathers have not been moulted. Studies of moult not only identifies what the bird is doing at each stage of its lifecycle but also may indicate its level of fitness, the hypothesis being that those juveniles that have a more extensive post-juvenile moult than average are the fittest individuals and are so more likely to survive the winter.

 

This spring we caught a lovely adult male Whinchat, the migratory cousin of the Stonechat. This is only the 4th Whinchat to be ringed at Durlston and the first in spring.

 

I was hoping we might catch a Whinchat this spring, but this bird was not on my radar at all. I had wondered if we would ever catch one of the dull-brown and quite unremarkable 1st year Common Rosefinches in autumn, as they are rare but regular especially in the Northern Isles and on Scilly, but a stonking adult male was beyond my expectations. There was just myself and new trainee present when we found it on the 28th May although two members of park staff were nearby and able to pop in. In the UK I’ve seen twelve Common Rosefinches; nine juveniles on Shetland or Scilly, an adult female on Shetland in the autumn, a male on Portland in spring years ago and this one. I have to say this was the most richly coloured one I’ve even seen (probably including the 150+ I’ve seen all across Eurasia).

 

With a range from Eastern Europe right across Siberia, this isn’t a rare bird within its range but it migrates south-east to India to winter and so the regular migration route avoids western Europe. For a while it expanded its range into western Europe and a few pairs even bred in the UK but they have since retreated. The presence of reddish tips to the greater and median coverts confirms that this is an age code 6 ie hatched in 2019 or before.

 

As well as ringing on Canford Heath in the winter our group also has a major study of Nightjars there and on other heathlands in East Dorset. It is magical being out there a the light fades and Nightjar’s rhythmical churring starts. Due to Covid I didn’t join the Nightjar researchers this year …

 

… but I was able to catch and ring eleven migrants pre-dawn as they passed through Durlston in later summer. This does require a very early start though!

 

A feeding station in a remote area of Canford Heath has proven to attract many birds and in late autumn and through the winter this site has been covered at least once a week. It does however sit in a frost pocket and can be very cold especially on misty mornings like this one.

 

One of the species we have caught there regularly is Greenfinch. The population of this species has dropped recently due to Trichomoniosis, a parasitic disease, however numbers may have started to recover, there are still plenty on Canford Heath.

 

During the spring and summer we also started ringing at a site in Wareham Forest. This is close to admin buildings, so we are only allowed access at weekends when the staff are absent. We caught a good number of Siskins, there and are amassing some interesting retrap data.

 

In 2020 I restarted mothing, something I tried in the ‘naughties’ but had let slip. This is my moth trap outside the conservatory door. I have already written a post about this in 2020 see here for the link.

 

In 2021 I started mothing again in late February. I wasn’t expecting much but thought it would pick up by late March. It didn’t, and April and nearly all of May went by with virtually no moths. Some nights the trap was empty, sometimes there were just one or two. I wasn’t alone, the dreadful weather of April and May has had a huge effect on invertebrate population and this is turn has affected the brood size and success of early nesting birds. A very few tit boxes that I’ve examined have either been empty or contain just three or four chicks. This is a Pale Tussock caught in early June.

 

There are 880 species illustrated in the ‘macro moth’ field guide but this is only one third of the total. The remainder are considered ‘micro moths’ (although there is some overlap in size between members of both groups). I find these far harder to identify, photograph and in some cases even see than the ‘macros’. Adding to the confusion is the fact that almost all micros in the field guide lack an English name. Recently English names have been introduced but as they’re not in the book, no-one uses them. I’m finding it very hard to remember all the names and since the weather and hence catches have improved I’m finding that its taking me all day to identify photograph and record all the species. This is a Epinotia bilunana which has recently acquired the name of ‘Crescent Bell’.

 

Although I wasn’t able to see as many birds as I usually do in 2020, especially in spring when we were advised to stay within walking distance of home, but during the summer and autumn and into 2021 I did get to see a few goodies. Each summer a number of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwaters arrive off Portland Bill from the western Mediterranean. This photo was taken off Mallorca in 2016.

 

In 2020 they were joined by a single Yelkouan (or Levantine) Shearwater from the eastern Mediterranean. Superficially similar, separating it from the commoner Balearics as they ‘sheared’ past the Bill was a bit of a challenge, but I eventually got good views. This was only the second record for the UK. This photo was taken off Tunisia in 2019.

 

We had a few days grace in early January 2021 before lockdown three came into place. During that time I visited the Avon valley on the Dorset/Hants border. One of the many birds I saw that day included a flock of five Ruddy Shelduck. This species is currently officially categorised as an escape from captivity in the UK which is ludicrous. I accept that most probably don’t come all the way from their breeding grounds in Central Asia (but probably did in 1994 when there was a Europewide influx) but there is now a substantial feral population in Europe involving many hundreds of birds which is surely the origin of most of our records. It’s doubtful that any wildfowl collection would allow five of their Ruddy Shelducks to escape simultaneously. Photo © Chris Minvalla taken at Radipole, Weymouth. Although the Weymouth bird could have been an escape (as it was quite tame) I consider the Avon valley flock to be of European origin if not genuinely wild..

 

Great Egrets were once very rare in the UK, now several pairs breed most notably on the Somerset Levels. Near us three or four can be seen at Longham Lakes. This is my photo, but I haven’t recorded where I took it, and as the species is almost cosmopolitan, it could be anywhere.

 

This Whiskered Tern, initially seen at Abbotsbury in west Dorset this spring conveniently moved to Longham Lakes a mere 15 minute drive away. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

A big surprise was the occurrence of a Red-billed Chough at Portland Bill in spring 2021. I have seen this species previously in Cornwall, Wales, western Scotland and Eire but only once before once before in Dorset at St Aldheim’s Head in 2003. Photo © Roger Howell.

 

Up to the end of May I had only left Dorset or West Hampshire once since mid March 2020 and that was just before Easter this year. A Northern Mockingbird (3rd record for the UK) had been in Exmouth, Devon for about a month but it wasn’t until  Eastertime that travel restrictions were lifted. Viewing conditions weren’t great, you had to scope across a busy road, over a number of gardens and wait until it flew up into a tree or a telegraph pole. Many birders ignored lockdown restrictions to twitch it but we remained ‘legal’ and waited until they were eased. This is only the third Northern Mockingbird record in the UK and the first twitchable one. The bird left Exmouth just a few days after we saw it but remarkably was then re-found in gardens in Sussex and then after a short gap again in Northumberland. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

Vagrants come and vagrants go but hopefully these birds are here to stay, well at least during the summer months. The biggest ornithological event of the year wasn’t any vagrant but the pairing up of two Ospreys in Poole Harbour. They are part of a reintroduction program started in 2017 and organised by the Birds of Poole Harbour and the Roy Dennis Foundation. The female CJ7 returned in 2019 and paired up with a male from the reintroduction program in early summer, but it was too late for them to breed. Hopes were high for 2020, however the male didn’t return but the female stayed around the nest and laid infertile eggs. The same happened this year but eventually another male O22 turned up, but again it looks like he arrived too late to breed. The reintroductions had to be halted last year because of Covid but will resume this summer. This was the first nesting attempt in southern England for 200 years! It will be a few years before we have a viable Osprey population in Poole Harbour but I’m sure it will happen.  Although I saw the female several times last year, I’ve yet to catch up with either of them this year. This nest camera from which this shot was taken can be seen on the Birds of Poole Harbour website by clicking this link

 

Of course the hardest thing about lockdown has being not seeing your friends and family. I haven’t seen my brother and his family since Christmas 2019 but have managed to see some of Margaret’s side of the family. We see her daughter Janis fairly regularly and a few months ago her granddaughter Kara moved from London to Bournemouth because she could do almost of all of her work online. This was taken on the Bournemouth seafront. Kara had shaved off all her hair for charity a few days earlier and had raised £1100 for Action Aid. In addition to the Osprey reintroductions, White-tailed Eagles are being reintroduced to the Isle of Wight and several of them have strayed to Dorset. I was sitting here having lunch with Margaret and Kara when a friend called to say a White-tailed Eagle had just gone over his house and was heading for mine!

 

I’ve been able to meet up with my friends from the ringing group as we are allowed to meet in small numbers for the purpose of volunteer research, but social meetings with other birders has been restricted to the weekly online ‘virtual pub’. Towards the end of May as restrictions eased a group of us were invited to my friend’s lovely old property just outside Wareham, our first face-to-face social event since Christmas 2019.

 

he and his wife are MDs of a major international cosmetic company, well known for its environmental credentials.

 

Within the grounds is this lovely walled garden, where various plants are being trialled for use in their products …

 

… along with methods for sustainable environmentally friendly production.

 

Much of the rest of the site is being managed as a nature reserve and includes a river floodplain, woodland and grassland. It has not been intensively managed in the past and the biodiversity is already high. The future looks bright for nature in this part of Dorset.

 

Our activities from June 2021 onwards will be the subject of our next post.

Mid July to October 2016 – Where have I been hiding for the last three months?   Leave a comment

Readers of this blog may have wondered whether I had abandoned it completely, was spending the last three months abroad or just had nothing to write about.

For a while I did nothing for the blog because I had used up all my storage space and was reluctant to pay for more. I’ve now capitulated and paid up for the extra space, although I will be uploading lower resolution photos in the future.

The main reason I have not updated this blog is because I have been incredibly busy manning the ringing site at Durlston near Swanage. Since 17th July I have visited no fewer than 50 times. My near-daily schedule has been getting up about two hours before dawn, arriving a good hour before sunrise and getting the nets up and ready for when the birds start moving. We have had the most successful season ever, by mid October we had ringed nearly 4500 birds, far more than any previous year with at least a month of autumn migration still to go.

Much of the afternoons have taken up with uploading the data onto my PC and sending it off via our group secretary to the BTO, preparing for the next day and sometimes having a nap after an early start. Hence the lack of blog posts. I have also been uploading our daily ringing totals from Durlston to the migration website Trektellen http://www.trektellen.org/ Go to captures and then select Durlston RS, the daily and annual totals. Summaries and graphs of occurrence for each species can be found by navigating the site. I have also been doing the laborious job of loading the daily totals from past years onto Trektellen. I have completed 2013-15 and have just got 2011-12 to do.

This post deals solely with ringing in Dorset at our sites at Durlston, Lytchett Bay and Fleets Lane in Poole from mid July to mid October.

By far the largest number of birds ringed were the two species of Phylloscopus warbler, Willow Warbler (below in the photo) and Chiffchaff (above)Whilst superficially similar they do have a lot of characteristics that tell them apart. Chiffchaff is smaller overall, has shorter primary projection, darker legs, darker flanks, more rounded head, a less prominent supercillium, but the most conclusive features that can only be seen in hand are the length of the second to fourth primary and the presence (Chiff) or absence (Willow) of an emargination on the 6th primary.

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Although I said that Willow Warblers were larger than Chiffchaffs there is some overlap. Small female Willow Warblers (left) certainly overlap in wing length and weight with largest Chiffchaffs. The bird on the right is a large male Willow Warbler with a wing length of 70mm. Only a proportion of Willows can be sexed on wing length as there is overlap between the sexes. In both the Willows above the long primary projection (the projection of the primary feathers beyond the tips of the tertials) can easily be seen.

 

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The following graph taken from Trektellen shows the numbers of Willow Warblers ringed at Durlston (averaged out per hour of ringing activity). The gap from early May and late July is partly because we do little ringing at this season but also because the species no longer breeds at the site, the range having shifted north with climate change. A few migrants are seen in spring, but numbers are dwarfed by the huge influx that occurs in late July and early August. By early September only a few are seen with the odd straggler occuring into early October. In total 942 birds were ringed with a maximum of 212 on 5th August this is our best year ever at Durlston and is well in excess of the previous maximum of 626 in 2013.

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Chiffchaffs show a different pattern, Again migrants/returning breeders are seen in spring but because the birds breed locally they continue to be recorded into mid May and in late July to late August (no ringing took place between 14th May and 17th July). At the time when the Willow Warbler migration is tailing off Chiff numbers rise rapidly reaching a peak in late September to early/mid October. 1382 have been ringed so far this year, a huge increase on the best ever year (2013 – where 875 were ringed) and more than triple what was ringed last year. This is partially due to ringer effort/availability but also undoubtedly points to a bumper year for the species.

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The third most ringed bird in 2016 has been Blackcap. The total of 796 doesn’t quite match the bumper year of 2014 when 860 were ringed but the season isn’t quite finished yet. After the post-juvenile moult, Blackcaps can easily be sexed by the eponymous black cap of the male and the brown cap of the female. This bird presents a conundrum but it is far more likely to be a male that is showing some female-type brown feathers than a female that has somehow grown some extra male-type feathers. The colour and structure of the brown crown feathers does not fit that of the juvenile plumage and I think the entire crown has been moulted.

This biggest surprise of the year has been the capture of 102 Grasshopper Warblers, compared to the annual average of 16 over the last five years. It is true that we have been getting to the site earlier to try to catch this crepuscular skulker before the sun is up but that can only be part of the story.

We have also had our best ever year for Meadow Pipits with 220 ringed to date (although that was mainly down to one very successful day where we ringed 126). We have yet to get a recovery on any of the Meadow Pipits ringed at Durlston but we hope this year’s batch will change all that. Some Meadow Pipits can be hard to age but this one is easy. The brown not blackish centres and the diffuse buffy borders of the greater coverts and the unmoulted white edged median coverts showing a small black tooth clearly show it is a first year bird.

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Common Whitethroats are regular breeders in the park and surrounding area and also occur as migrants. Young birds are easy to age due to their dark, rather than hazel coloured eyes.

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Another aging feature is the muddy brown rather than white on the outer tail feather plus a restricted pale area on the 5th (penultimate) tail feather. This first-year bird is unusual in that it has lost its left hand outer tail feather but not the right. The replacement has grown back as an adult type, clearly different from its first-year counterpart.

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Whitethroats show an interesting pattern of occurrence. As a common breeder in the park we ring quite a few in the spring (one trapped on 1st May was ringed as a juvenile in July 15 – an example of natal philopatry) and would probably continue to trap some in late May – mid July if we had been active during that period. The spike in late July/early August represents locally bred juveniles before the main migration gets underway in mid August. The migration tails off rapidly in early September.

 

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Now for some of the birds we ring less often. A first year Whinchat ….

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The species can easily be identified by the white bases to the outer tail feathers.

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Although quite a common migrant, they prefer more open ground. We have ringed just two Wheatears this year. Both were of the Greenland race leucorhoa which leaves its breeding grounds in Greenland and eastern Canada and makes a non-stop flight across the Atlantic to Europe before continuing on to its wintering grounds in Africa.

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Common Redstarts weren’t all that common with an about-average showing of 15 . All but one showed the brown (rather than grey) tipped greater coverts of a 1st year bird

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The grey head and black chin, still fringed with white tips (which will wear away by next spring) indicates that this is a male.

 

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Although common inland, especially in coniferous woodland, Coal Tits are very unusual in our ringing area and this is the only Coal Tit to be ringed there this year.

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Melodious Warblers occur as close Dorset as northern France but are still no more than scarce migrants to the county. This bird was trapped on the early date of 26th July and is only the second to be ringed in the Park. Although its wing length is comparable to that of a Willow warbler, it is much stouter, has a much broader based bill, a plain-looking face with a beady eye. The short primary projection helps distinguish it from the similar Icterine Warbler.

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The group has been called on to do two public ringing demonstrations in 2016, one at Durlston and one at Lytchett Bay. At Lytchett (above) we had a good turn out of both ringers and public with about half of the group arriving to help. L-R Tony Taylor, me, Kevin Lane, Claire Young, Mike Gould, John Dowling and newcomer to the group Kath Clay, group ringing secretary Bob Gifford is at the front sat down. Photo taken by Lytchett stalwart Shaun Robson who did all the public demonstrating.

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The weather has been quite good throughout the period concerned with little rain and without protracted periods of wind and this has helped boost our totals, However for the first two weeks of October the winds blew strongly from the east and brought exceptional numbers of Siberian birds to the eastern shores of the UK. Few filtered down to Dorset (with the exception of Yellow-browed Warblers – see below) but we did see an exceptional number of Ring Ouzels. Although they are a scarce breeder in the uplands of Britain, they occurred in such numbers that they must have been augmented by birds from Scandinavia or beyond. For several days the winds were too strong to ring at Durlston so I fell back to our more sheltered site at Fleets Lane in Poole where this Ring Ouzel was trapped. Another was trapped by Shaun and Bob at Lytchett Bay. Photo by Terry Elborn.

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Yellow-browed Warblers breed in the Siberian taiga zone as close as the Ural Mountains, but migrate to SE Asia to winter. Numbers have been increasing in Britain in recent years (and wintering has been proved in SW Iberia and in the Canaries) but 2016 has seen the biggest influx ever. Counts at single sites in Yorkshire have exceeded a hundred on a single day and the total in the UK must run to many thousands. Even as far south as Dorset records have been broken.

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Between 2004 and 2015 our group has ringed six Yellow-browed Warblers (3 of those in 2015) this year we have ringed twelve already. None of these has been retrapped indicating rapid onwards movement. It would be wonderful to get a recovery on one of these Siberian waifs and help elucidate where they are going and why some have taken up a new migration strategy and maybe country-wide the BTO will, but on numerical grounds the chances of any of our twelve birds being recovered is slim.

 

This article has discussed the various birds that we ring and their identification and aging/sexing characteristics. The timing and variation in migration year on year plus the ability to age and sex the birds concerned provides valuable ornithological data. However what we all hope for is that our birds will be trapped elsewhere by another ringer (controlled) or recovered by a member of the public.

Although this year has been good for the number and variety of birds ringed it has also provided us with many recoveries: those received in 2016 pertaining to Durlston are shown below. We have also got three more controls in the pipeline.

DCP = Durlston Country Park

Species Ringed Ringed at  Date recovered Where recovered
Goldcrest 08/11/2015 DCP 13/03/2016 Milton Abbas, Dorset cat
Chiffchaff 12/10/2014 DCP 25/03/2016 Longis Pond, Alderney, Channel Islands retrapped
Willow Warbler 02/09/2015 DCP 27/09/2015 Arneiros, Querenca, Faro, Portugal retrapped
Blackcap 25/09/2013 DCP 19/04/2016 Longis Pond, Alderney, Channel Islands retrapped
Blackcap 01/09/2014 DCP 17/04/2016 Chew Valley Lake,  Somerset retrapped
Reed Warbler 18/06/2016 Chew Valley Lake,  Somerset, 06/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Willow Warbler 06/08/2016 Billinge Hill, Merseyside, 14/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Pied Flycatcher 13/06/2015 Kentmere Hall Plantation, Cumbria, 18/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Whitethroat 17/07/2016 DCP 14/08/2016 Gravelly Marsh, Needs Ore, Hampshire retrapped
Blackcap 21/09/2016 DCP 24/09/2016 Brook Farm, Reculver, Kent retrapped

In addition there have been many recoveries/controls of birds ringed at Lytchett Bay including many Reed and Sedge Warblers that moved to France, as well as others that were recovered nearer to their ringing location.

Each recovery adds to the complex jigsaw that makes up the life history of our birds.

1st – 22nd August – a ringing update.   Leave a comment

August can be one of the best times of the year for bird ringing, the weather is still mild, although a bit windy this year, autumn migration is in full swing and the variety of trans-Saharan migrants is at its peak.

I have spent as much time as possible ringing this month at Lytchett Bay and Durlston Country Park although the remnants of hurricane Bertha and getting up at 0430 everyday have proven to be obstacles.

Early in the month there were phenomenal numbers of migrants, especially Sedge Warblers on the move. A couple of visits to Lytchett Bay resulted in nearly 500 birds being ringed, most of them Sedges. Mid-month the weather changed to an unending run of westerlies and the numbers of birds present has been much lower.

Sedge Warblers are usually encountered in wetland habitats but can be seen on migration in scub and low vegetation.

Very common in the reed beds at Lytchett Bay with over 750 ringed this autumn, we have also trapped about 20 in the scrub at Durlston. Sedge Warblers winter in the Sahel, the arid region that lies to the south of the Sahara.

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The heathland at Lytchett Bay has recently been purchased by Dorset Wildlife Trust. We applied to renew our ringing permission with the new owners and they asked us to do a public ringing demonstration. We have only caught a few birds on the heathland but a ‘dress rehearsal’ at the adjacent reed bed has produced a large number of Reed and Sedge Warblers and required us to call in reinforcements to help. Unfortunately the remnants of  hurricane Bertha prevented the actual demonstration from going ahead.

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Whilst taking down nets at dusk we trapped this Brown Long-eared Bat. It might look undignified but this is the correct way to hold a bat, as it does not involve touching the delicate wing membranes.

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Kingfishers appear in the early autumn every year at Lytchett Bay. We presume they migrate down the local rivers to winter in Poole Harbour. In 2014 we have ringed 8 new birds and retrapped one from last year, showing that the single kingfisher seen on each visit is not necessarily the same bird. We have retrapped several in subsequent years, showing year on year site fidelity, but have also retrapped a Lytchett Bay bird in a subsequent winter at Fleets Lane in Poole indicating that this is not an inviolate rule. In this picture a pristine first year (L) contrasts with the ragged adult (R) which is the process of moult. Accurate aging is essential for an understanding of population dynamics which is one of the main investigations conducted these days on ringed birds.

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Grasshopper Warblers, with their graduated tails and long speckled undertail coverts are always a delight to ring. So far this autumn we have ringed 17 at Lytchett Bay and 7 at Durlston. Because of its secretive habits this species has one of the lowest recovery rates of all ringed birds and much is still unknown about its movements and life history.

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Lytchett Bay is the only site where we regularly ring Cetti’s Warblers. An inhabitant of scrub adjacent to wetlands this species is not a true migrant but young birds do disperse as shown by a recovery of one of our birds from Norfolk. The mouse grey-brown plumage, short wren-like wings, broken white eye-ring and just ten rather than the usual twelve tail feathers are all identification features, but most birders will know it by it’s incredibly loud staccato voice.

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We have ringed over 60 Garden Warblers this autumn, mainly at Durlston. It might look like the archetypal ‘little brown job’ to the uninitiated but the stubby bill, narrow grey shawl and plain upper parts with pale tipped remiges give a very characteristic appearance.

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Unlike almost all other members of the genus Sylvia, adult Garden Warblers moult in the winter in Africa rather than before migration. Thus an adult on migration will be more abraded than a young bird. This can be quite subtle, the faded tips to these primary feathers are caused by bleaching by the sun over time and thus belong to an adult bird. It has recently been shown that Sylvia warblers are not warblers at all but representatives of the  mainly Asian babblers.

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However caution is required when aging birds, the tail of this Garden Warbler might look abraded but this can happen in the nest. The presence of a growth bar shows that it is a first year bird. Changes in the availability of food whilst the tail is growing is reflected in the colour of the feathers. The fact that the growth bar occurs across all feathers means that all feathers grew simultaneously and therefore must be from a first year bird.

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Common Whitethroats (the full name is needed to distinguish it from the next species) is a common breeder at Durlston but migrants also move through the Park in some numbers. The dark eye and lack of pure white in the outer tail show that this is a young bird.

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Lesser Whitethroats are (as the name would suggest) smaller than the last species and also are much paler with white underparts, have a pale grey head and lack rufous in the wing. Small numbers breed at Durlston – we have ringed 12 so far this year.

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Breeding mainly in the west of Britain – Devon, Wales and SE Scotland, Pied Flycatchers are pretty scarce on migration where we ring, however the trapping area comprises mainly of low scrub and is not ideal for these arboreal birds.

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In common  with the last species, we have only ringed a single Spotted Flycatcher so far this year, although their migration extends well into September, so there may be more.

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Tree Pipits are regular overhead migrants in late August – early September, usually just after dawn. The fine flank streaking, face pattern and (when you can see it) shorter claw length separate them from the similar Meadow Pipit. In the field the call is diagnostic. So far seven have been ringed at Durlston this August.

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Juvenile Blackcaps have a dark brown crown. This changes during the post juvenile moult to the familiar black of a male or tawny-brown of a female. Note the crown of this bird: this not a mixture of black first year and brown juvenile feathers but rather first winter feathers with brown tips. These will presumably abrade to give the pristine black crown by the spring.

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Most birds fly off immediately on release but some pause to ‘gather their bearings’. This Willow Warbler had a little rest on Margaret’s woolly hat before flying off into the nearby scrub.

9th – 20th April 2014: Spring migrants return, plus a ‘flash-mob’ in the shopping arcade.   Leave a comment

 

 

As spring gathers pace we have resumed our ringing program at Durlston Country Park was well as continuing to ring at Fleets Lane in Poole. Migration has been slow so far this year, although as usual in spring Portland Bill has seen seen some large falls of migrants. Peak numbers out of three or four visits to Durlston have been between 30 and 40 birds ringed per session and numbers have been much lower at Fleets Lane.

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Another spectacular Durlston dawn.

 

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This male Green Woodpecker was an unusual catch at Durlston.

 

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One of the delights of spring is seeing the return of the sub-Saharan migrants like Sedge Warbler ……..

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….. Lesser Whitethroat and ….

 

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….. this beautiful male Common Redstart

 

 

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On the 15th I gave a talk to the Bournemouth Natural Sciences Society on the subject of ‘What Came First The Archaeopteryx Or The Egg’ The talk started with a section on the evolution of birds from feathered dinosaurs before I went rapidly through the various groups of birds extant today, describing their origins and explaining how they got to be where they are today. This, the cover of the forthcoming ‘Illustrated Checklist Of The Birds Of The World’ nicely demonstrates, the current best fit for entire bird family tree (with the exception of the Passerines which will be in a the second volume) and represented the baseline for my talk. Unfortunately the slide show didn’t go without a hitch, many of my slides had white lettered captions on  a black background. For some reason when I showed the slides in Bournemouth, the white text projected black and the captions disappeared!

 

 

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Like all teenagers, Kara is growing up fast. On the 10th she joined a school friend and her family on a holiday to the Canaries. She called in the night before to show off her new party dress.

 

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The 12th was a very busy day. I was up at 0500 to go ringing at Fleets Lane, Margaret had some former work colleagues from her days in Southampton round for lunch and in the evening we visited my old friend and former ringing trainer, Trevor Squire at his house in north Dorset. We were just about to leave for Trevor’s when we heard that Paul Morton had found a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Swineham. A mad dash ensued and although I only saw them from a distance, the views were acceptable; and we got to Trevor and Sheila’s in time for dinner as well! Photo by Paul Morton.

 

 

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After an early start on the 12th and a very enjoyable, but late evening at Trevor and Sheila’s, we were slow to get going on the 13th. We opted for a short walk from Langton Matravers to the coast at Dancing Ledge. On arrival we found that due to erosion during the winter storm, the footpath was closed.

 

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However it didn’t take much of a detour to get us to the scenic spot.

 

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Good number of Early Spider Orchids were in bloom.

 

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For the first time in decades Puffins failed to arrive at Portland Bill in March. There had been a mass mortality along the coasts of Biscay and to a lesser extent along the English south coast as a result of the winter storms and we feared the local breeding population had been wiped out. We  also failed to see any at Dorset’s only other site, Dancing Ledge, but fortunately a couple were seen on my next visit to Portland on the 15th.  This photo was taken in Shetland in 2012 and previously posted on the blog in this small format.

 

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The only bird that came close enough to be photographed was this obliging Rock Pipit.

 

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Rock Pipit, Dancing Ledge.

 

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On the 15th I visited Portland. There were very few grounded migrants but seawatching was pretty good with Hobby, Merlin, Common Scoter, two species of Diver and as mentioned above, Puffins seen. Seawatching at Portland Bill. Out of the wind and out of the sun.

 

 

 

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A Whimbrel was the only migrant to come close enough to be photographed. unfortunately is was just disappearing around the Obelisk when I pressed the shutter.

 

 

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After an early visit to Durlston on the 17th I joined former colleagues for a post-work curry and drinks at Wetherspoons in Poole. Some like Dave,  (on the left) are still stuck in the lab but Tash on the right has made a bid for freedom and now works as a primary school teacher.

 

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On the 19th we put on a ringing demonstration at Arne RSPB reserve as part of their ‘meet the wildlife day’. On the same day in 2013 they invited two RSPB employees with ringing permits from elsewhere and the ringed over 100 birds during the day. This year we put on the demo and caught just nine! The reason was the dreadfully cold April in 2013 delayed the onset of the breeding season but this year birds have left the vicinity of the feeding station early for their various breeding sites.

 

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I had to leave the demo at Arne in the capable hands of Shaun, Carol and others and hurry back to Poole in Bank Holiday traffic conditions to see Margaret’s choir perform a ‘flash-mob’ in the Dolphin shopping arcade. The choir suddenly appeared out of nowhere and gave a good rendition of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from the Messiah. They drew a large appreciative crowd but unfortunately it was over far too quickly and most drifted away wishing there had been more.

 

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Margaret and Christine (bottom right) singing as part of the Barclay House Choir  ‘flash-mob’. Christine came round for dinner about a week ago. She is currently studying for a teacher’s qualification in Bognor and regaled us with tales of the activities of her fellow students, activities that she clearly disapproves of !

 

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This morning (Easter Sunday) I set off early for Portland Bill. There was a strong wind, it was quite cold and in spite of clouding over during the night there were few migrants about. However I was delighted when a Serin was found feeding close to the Bird Observatory patio with some Goldfinches.

 

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View initially were quite brief but later it returned to the same area and gave better views. Although common on the near continent, Serins are scarce in the UK with most records coming from southern watch points like Portland. My last decent view of one in the UK was in spring 2000, again at Portland.