Archive for the ‘Lesser Redpoll’ Tag

April – early May 2018: a few spring migrants   Leave a comment

I returned from Vietnam at the end of March and for the first time in several years I was at home during the peak spring migration period.

That said I didn’t benefit much from it. Cold weather at home and in particular bad weather in Europe and North Africa has delayed or aborted spring migration. Many species, most notably the hirundines (swallows and martins) have arrived in very small numbers and although early arriving migrants like Blackcap and Chiffchaff are here in good numbers, many of the later arriving species are not. Seawatching, at least for me, has been poor. Most of my visits to Portland have been on days when seabird passage was light or I manged to miss the key species like Pomarine Skua by scanning the horizon when they were in fact passing just under my nose!

That said April and early May was not without its benefits. Here are a selection of the most memorable birds I have seen this spring.

 

There has been a Bonaparte’s Gull hanging around Longham Lakes near Poole for some time. I visited on 7th of April when it was in winter plumage. Hearing that it was rapidly moulting into summer plumage and gaining a full black hood, I returned on the 26th and took these shots.

 

Bonaparte’s Gull wasn’t named after Napoleon Bonaparte but his nephew Charles (1803-1857). Born in France, yet raised in Italy Charle Bonaparte later moved to the USA. He is known for discovering Moustached Warbler and Wilson’s Storm Petrel.

 

Superficially like a small Black-headed Gull, Bonaparte’s has blackish rather than chocolate-brown head, all black bill and whiter underwings. The isolated dark mark in the outer primaries indicates that this is in third-summer plumage rather than a full adult. This species seems to have a got a lot commoner in the UK in recent years but whether this is due to one or two wandering individuals I’m not sure.

 

Also at Longham was this lovely Greater Scaup, seen her with two Tufted Duck. This species was once regular on Littlesea at Studland but the (? deliberate) introduction of predatory fish has changed the ecology of the lake and now there are no ducks at all wintering. A few Scaup often winters at Abbotsbury Swannery but views are usually distant. Good views of this drake were therefore greatly appreciated. Photo by my friend Chris’s father Tony Minvalla.

 

I usually find Portland Bill to be the best area in the county to experience spring migration. Sticking seven miles out into the Channel it acts as a magnet for birds flying from the Continent. In autumn larger numbers seem to congregate along the Purbeck coast, eg at our ringing site at Durlston.

 

This spring has been unusually poor for migrants at Portland and elsewhere see https://www.portlandbirdobs.com There was only one large fall and that was on a day when I wrongly judged conditions to be unsuitable for migration and only birded locally rather than go to Portland or Durlston! However I have managed to see a reasonable selection of spring migrants and of course the usual resident species like this Common Kestrel.

 

The highlights of this spring were this Hoopoe that graced the ‘top fields’ and the Crown Estate fields opposite Portland Bird Observatory. Photo by my friend Roger Howell.

 

Hoopoes are common over much of southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa in summer and migrants sometimes ‘overshoot’ and end up on the British south coast in spring. Resident populations in tropical Africa are often treated as a separate species, African Hoopoe based on differences in wing pattern. Photo by Roger Howell.

 

This photo, also by Roger Howell, of the Portland bird shows the typical wing pattern of Eurasian Hoopoe. African Hoopoe’s wing pattern lacks the broad white band in the outer primaries and has much more white on the secondaries and greater coverts.

 

Another highlight of the spring was a pair of Golden Orioles seen in the ‘top fields’. During my visit the female showed very well but the male appeared only briefly. There was a time when it looked like Golden Orioles might colonise parts of the UK with regular breeding occurring in East Anglia. Unfortunately they have ceased to breed in the UK, despite suitable habitat remaining and are now no more than a scarce migrant. The female of the pair was photographed by Chris Minvalla.

 

I have only been on one out-of-county twitch this spring and that was to see a rather dodgy bird that had taken up residence in this small cul-de-sac at East Budleigh in east Devon.

 

Italian Sparrow is a rather dodgy recently evolved species formed by hybridisation of House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, but it has been decided that it is valid and has been accepted as a species by the IOC. The question is – is this individual a genuine Italian Sparrow from the core of its Italian range or the  the hybrid offspring of a vagrant Spanish Sparrow that just happens to breed with a British House Sparrow? Add to that the question whether it could have got here on by its own steam or hitched a ride on a ship and the significance of the deformed bill (that could indicate captive origin) and you can see why opinions are highly divided about this bird. Photo from Devon Birds www.devonbirds.org/news/bird_news/devon_bird_sighting

 

I was persuaded to go by my friend Olly but although I didn’t rate the sparrow very highly I enjoyed the trip partly because of the lovely scenery on the nearby Devon coast.

 

Part of the world Heritage Site Jurassic Coast, these sandstone cliffs are actually from the earlier Triassic period when the first dinosaurs were evolving. I have walked the coast from near Beaulieu in the New Forest to Beer in Devon but have yet to walk this section. One day ….

 

The detour to the coast was well worthwhile as we had great views of a male Cirl Bunting. Careful management and a Cornish reintroduction scheme is helping the threatened Cirl Bunting regain territory lost to agricultural ‘improvement’ in recent decades. Apart from a single bird seen in west Dorset a few years ago, all my sightings have been in south Devon, however the species has now crossed the Exe River and is now breeding in the coastal habitat between the Exe and the Dorset border. This photo was taken near Exeter in 2011.

 

There is no good news to report about Turtle Doves though. It has never been common during the 40 years I’ve been birding but there was always a realistic chance of seeing one when out birding, either on its breeding grounds inland or on migration on the coast. Now the triple whammy of habitat destruction at home, desertification in the African wintering grounds and relentless hunting pressure in autumn and spring (especially in Malta) is driving this lovely bird to extinction. I now know of only one location where it can be seen locally, just over the border into Hampshire at Martin Down, where we saw and heard four individuals a few days ago.

 

Of course I’ve carried on with the ringing program at Durlston this spring, but eight visits in April and three in May resulted in the capture of just 137 birds. It was not all bad however, we retrapped birds that ringed in almost every year between 2011 and 2017, including an eight year old Great Tit plus Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps that had returned from Africa to breed at Durlston, some for several years in succession. Gathering information like this concerning longevity and natal philopatry (returning to your birth place to breed) is more important than ringing a large number of birds, that will never be heard of again. The commonest migrant was of course Willow Warbler. Willows have a longer and more pointed wing shape than Chiffchaffs but as any trainee ringer soon learns it is the lack of emargination on the 6th primary that is the clincher.

 

Olive-grey coloured Willow like this one may be Scandinavian birds of the race acredula

The movements of Firecrests at Durlston is a bit of a mystery. As can be clearly seen in the above graph, the vast majority occur in late October and November and probably mainly represent post breeding dispersal of British bred birds and birds from the near continent, The very few records in August and early September may be of locally bred birds. There have only been two records in spring on 21st April 2014 and 28th April 2018 – so where might they have come from?

 

This bird was ringed on 28th April this year. It looks in bad condition but it’s not. The black matted feathers around the bill is due to pollen which it has either fed on directly or has picked up whilst feeding on small insects attracted to the pollen. Chiffchaffs often arrive in the UK in spring looking like this and it is a generally held opinion that they pick up the pollen from stop-over sites in Spain (I haven’t got the actual reference so I’m being a bit cautious about the location here). It could be that this female Firecrest, which didn’t have a brood patch so was not yet breeding, had arrived all the way from wintering grounds in Spain.

 

Two Common Whitethroats, a female on the left and a male trapped at Durlston. The female was newly ringed but the male was ringed as a 1st year bird in August 2017.

 

Ringing at our site at Canford Heath was successful throughout March (although I wasn’t around to enjoy it) so it was decided we would continue into April. Three visits in the first half of the month produced the goods but another on the 19th after a spell of fine weather produced little, showing that the birds ringed earlier had migrated elsewhere as soon as the opportunity presented itself. A few Siskins hung around to breed but most departed with the change of the weather.

 

A comparison of the wing pattern of a first year male (age code 5) Siskin (top) and an adult male (age code 6) below with some welly boots included for good measure.

 

But an outstanding feature of the ringing at Canford this spring was the Lesser Redpolls. we catch a few throughout the winter but numbers really built up in  early April with 31 ringed compared to 3 during the rest of the winter. These must have been birds migrating through the area to points further north. Some had the classic red ‘poll’ whilst other had an orange ‘poll’. It’s not clear if these ‘orangepolls’ are all first year birds as some had adult type tails.

 

An adult male Lesser Redpoll in breeding plumage is a bit of a stunner.

 

I have neither the time or space to go through the complex vagaries of redpoll taxonomy except to say that Lesser Redpoll is the form (now usually treated as a species) that breeds in UK, Western Europe and the Alps whilst  Mealy Redpoll breeds all around the northern hemisphere in the temperate zone. Mealy (or Common) Redpoll is a scarce winter visitor the UK (but in some years it is irruptive and occurs in much larger numbers). Here in the south of the UK we get very few Mealies so the bird we caught on 9th April and again on the 11th was the first undisputable Meal;y Redpoll to ringed by our group. Its frosty appearance, pale pink breast and large size (wing of 78 compared to 68-73 of the Lesser Redpolls handled the same day) all confirm it as a Mealy.

 

Ringing of migrants is just about over for the spring. Some ringing of chicks in the nest and an important Nightjar study is about to start but I’ll be taking a break for a little while.

January – March 2017: a few, mainly birding, activities.   2 comments

This post covers a number of (mainly) bird related activities during January, February and March.

Apart from our week in France we’ve been having a relatively quiet time during the first three months of the year.  I made a New Year’s Resolution to do some birding every single day and so far I have stuck to that, but I haven’t travelled outside of Dorset and West Hampshire (except to travel to Paris) but have done a fair bit of local birding within that area and a lot of bird ringing at our regular sites.

Also I haven’t taken many photos, often deliberately leaving my camera at home. This is because I still have photos to edit and reports to complete on trips I did in 2016, so it seemed pointless adding even more to the ‘to do’ pile.

 

A sunset is usually placed at the end of set of slides not at the start, but early this winter these has been a sizeable roost of Starlings near Shell Bay at the entrance to Poole Harbour and so the sunset has to come first.

 

Many thousands of birds have come into roost, often performing the wonderful aerial acrobatics known as a ‘murmuration’. On this occasion the wind was rather strong and the flocks just flew in to roost.

 

I have birded many places in Dorset, mostly around Poole but sometimes going as far as Weymouth, Abbotsbury or the New Forest. On one particularly sunny day Margaret and I went back to Shell Bay.

 

For those who have never visited this is a particularly beautiful part of the Dorset coast. On the other side of the Bay is Sandbanks, one of the most expensive areas of the UK. The Haven Hotel and the chain ferry that permits vehicular access to the Studland peninsula can be seen.

 

Our target was this Snow Bunting which was feeding on the beach where Shell Bay meets Studland Bay. Although a regular wintering bird in reasonable numbers on the east coast, I have only seen this species seven times in Dorset, all singles except in early ’82 when a flock of 6-7 occurred in the Studland area.

 

As I said earlier I haven’t been taking my camera with me very much this year and these photos were hand-held digiscoped, hence the lack of quality.

 

Two races of Snow Bunting occur in Britain, nominate nivalis (from northern Europe and northern Canada) and the Icelandic insulae. All the evidence points to this being the nominate race.

 

 

The area around Mordon Bog and Sherford Bridge can be very good for birds but if you want to explore the area around Mordon Park Lake you need to cross this very dodgy ‘bridge’.

 

A distant Great Grey Shrike was the best bird I saw in Wareham Forest this year.

 

Leaving the birding scene behind for a moment, on one clear night I visited my friend and former work colleague Tim to look through his astronomical telescope. Unfortunately living in the middle of Poole, ambient lighting rather spoilt the images. No planets were in view but we did look at some star clusters and nebulae ….

 

…. but my favourite object that Tim was able to show me was galaxy M82, one of the Messier objects, 110 diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, open clusters, globular clusters and galaxies that were catalogued by Charles Messier as he searched the heavens for comets. Our view of galaxy M82 was nowhere near as good as this one (taken from Wikipedia) but it becomes the furthest object I have ever seen. At 12 million light years (or just over 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 km) the light would have left this galaxy in the Miocene era, even before human’s ape-like ancestors walked the earth.

 

I have done many trips in the UK and a few abroad with my friend Roger (here seen on a pelagic trip in the Azores) ….

 

…. so it was very pleasing to be able to attend his 60th birthday party. This unusual cake (made by his wife Sue) is complete with a model of Roger birding from a park bench.

 

Although I have I have little or no interest in gardening it’s probably Margaret’s favourite occupation. Deciding the front path was getting a bit grubby she bought a power washer and before I was even aware what was going on she had cleaned the lot.

 

Though she looked like she had a bad case of measles when she had finished.

 

Most of my activities during this period have involved bird ringing which I have been keen to continue through the winter period. This winter we have started ringing at a new site on heathland to the north of Poole which has proved very productive, especially for finches. This is the view on a frosty morning from our ringing site.

 

Here are a few photos of birds in the hand: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Blackbird with such incredibly rich colour to the bill and eye-ring before.

 

Understanding and recognising moult is key to telling the age of a bird and telling the age of a bird is key to understanding population dynamics. But there are always exceptions to the rule. This Robin has just moulted its three innermost primaries but not the rest. This is not a usual moult strategy and might have occurred after the feathers were lost after an attack by a predator.

 

Goldcrests can be aged by the shape of the tail feather, pointed in first years, rounded in adults. This first year Goldcrest has lost the three outer tail feathers on the right-hand side and although obviously it is still in its first year it has regrown the feathers with an adult shape. Thus if the bird was to loose all its tail feathers and regrow them in the shape of an adult, it would be incorrectly aged.

 

Some birds can be easily sexed in the field (for example Chaffinch or Bullfinch), other can only be reliably sexed in the hand such as this Greenfinch. The diagonal shape of the yellow on the outer webs of the inner primaries shows that this is a male. On a female the yellow would run parallel to the shaft leaving a black streak between the yellow and the shaft for the entire length of the feather.

 

Goldfinches can be only aged on the combination of a number of features and then only reliably in adult birds. The red extending behind the eye, more extensive red chin and longer bill indicate that the bird in the foreground is a male. Although on average, the male is slightly larger than the female, this is exaggerated in this photo as it is being held nearer to the camera.

 

We usually catch a few Redpolls in the autumn on migration at Durlston but its a long time since I’ve ringed one in it’s its breeding finery. We have caught a Redpoll that was ringed elsewhere and look forwards to learning where it came from and when it was ringed.

 

Redpolls are comprised of 5 or 6 subspecies divided into 3 (BOU list) or two (IOC list) species. The BOU has stated that as from the start of 2018 it will follow the IOC checklist, so we will loose our breeding form Lesser Redpoll as a separate species as it will be lumped with Common Redpoll. This however is just the start of the story, recent genetic research has shown that all the races of Redpoll are genetically identical and a proposal is being considered to lump the lot, so we will go from having three species on the British list to just one.

 

Another bird that we usually only ring in the autumn is Pied Wagtail when the majority are in drab first-year plumage. This smart male was ringed in one of our group member’s garden close to Lytchett Bay.

 

Another species we only ring occasionally is Jay, an aggressive and noisy bird in the hand and one that will leave deep marks on your fingers if they get anywhere near its bill. We have ringed four recently at our new site, it would be nice to get a recovery.

 

One of the ongoing puzzles that ringing may solve is the issue of ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaffs. This bird seen and ringed at one of our sites in Poole calls and sings like a Siberian (race tristis) has the whitish belly and green fringes to the flight feathers, yet in certain lights shows greenish tones in the upperparts. Body feathers accidentally shed in the ringing process have been sent for DNA analysis but as only mitochondrial DNA markers are available this will merely tell us what its mother was! Tristis is increasingly being touted as a full species, based mainly on its unique vocalisations, so robust identification criteria are needed.

 

Over the last few months I have been ringing with a young lady named Fenja. She recently returned from a voluntary research expedition to the lowland rainforest of south-east Peru where she assisted in wildlife censuses and ringing. During her stay they trapped 32 species of rainforest birds, all but one have been seen by me in one place or another, but I am quite envious of the photos of her holding a Hairy-crested Antbird, a species I have never even seen.

 

Towards the end of March our ringing group held its AGM, this time in a more professional looking location than my conservatory. As always it took ages to work through the agenda because we kept getting side-tracked (but some of us expected that and brought some beer along). L-R: Shaun Robson, Andy Welch, Olly Slessor, Ginny Carvisiglia, me, Chris Minvalla, Mike Gould, Daniel Whitelegg, Paul Morton, Carol Greig, Sean Walls, Bob Gifford and Brian Cresswell. Out of shot are Ian Alexander, Kath Clay and Terry Elborn. We thank Brian and Sean for allowing us to use the Biotrack offices for the meeting.

 

At the end of every AGM Bob awards the so-called ‘Stoate Award’ for the worst data submission in the last year. This time he performed it in the manner of the Oscars, calling on Shaun to open the envelope and read out the ‘winner’, then declaring a mistake had been made and then having it read out again. As expected I was the recipient, but I pointed out that I entered 64% of all the data submitted last year and therefore more mistakes were to be expected. The actual award is an unidentifiable ornamental bird, I’d rather it was the stuffed Eagle Owl in corner of the photo.

 

However the worse sin was that occasionally, when the program rejected a bird’s biometrics on the basis of it being too heavy, I would type ‘fat bastard’ or ‘who ate all the pies’ in the comments box. Judging from the photo above I think that’s a case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’!