Archive for the ‘Siberian Chiffchaff’ Tag

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’!

December 2015 – a few friends and family, locations and birds that kept us busy for most of the month.   Leave a comment

This post covers from when we returned from Turkey on 2nd December until the end of the year.

May I take the opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a very happy 2016

 

IMG_2203 M, A&J, Lois and Gavin, Maldon

After we returned from our trip to Turkey we braved the M25 rush hour traffic and drove straight to Anita and John’s in Maldon in Essex. They will be in South Africa at Christmas time so we made our Christmas visit in early December. They have John’s sister Lois and her husband Gavin staying with them and this was the first time I had met them. L-R Gavin, Lois, John, Anita and Margaret (with an imaginary selfie-stick).

IMG_2189 Teal

With John and Anita at work we had time on the first two days to do a little birding, first at Abberton Reservoir where large flocks of wildfowl were present, including these Teal but also many Pochard, a bird that was once abundant in Dorset in winter but is now only seen in relatively small numbers.

IMG_2156 GG Grebe

These 16 Great Crested Grebes are just a small part of flock that numbered over a hundred.

IMG_2161 Goose hybrid

I was initially puzzled by this bird, it looks quite like a Cackling Goose, the diminutive relative of Canada Goose, but the black of the neck extending onto the upper breast and the sharp demarcation between the black breast and the grey of the belly is reminiscent of a Barnacle Goose. It must be a hybrid, either between Barnacle and a Canada, or given its small size, between a Barnacle and a Cackling. Hybridisation between geese species is not unusual in feral populations, where the ecological and geographical conditions that would normally separate them during the breeding season, are absent. Its close association with a flock of feral Greylag Geese is a further indication of its dubious pedigree.

IMG_2178 Bewicks & Wigeon

The best sighting of the day was a group of seven Bewick’s Swans, two of which posed nicely for photos.

IMG_2194 Wallasea

Last Christmas we paid a visit to Wallasea, the RSPB’s new 1,500 acre mega-reserve in Essex. A huge area of former farmland has been reclaimed for nature using literally millions of tonnes of spoil from Crossrail project ((I object to the term reclaimed land – changing wildlife rich coasts into farmland cannot be ‘reclaiming’ it as it was never the farmer’s land in the first place – turning farmland back into a nature reserve on the other hand is ‘reclaiming’). Since our last visit much has happened, sluice gates erected, lagoons, both fresh and saline at various heights, have been created to provide feeding habitat at all stages of the time and for the first time in 400 years the sea wall has been breached allowing the former farmland to revert to salt marsh.

IMG_2192 Wallasea

Although our visit in December last year was bird-filled we were a bit disappointed this year, perhaps the very low tide meant most waders and wildfowl were still offshore, leaving the lagoons on the reserve somewhat empty, or perhaps the very mild conditions hadn’t induced many birds to come this far south and west.

IMG_6692 John Gavin

A fair amount of my time was spent accompanying John and Gavin as they visited Maldon’s many pubs. I have been in Poole for 37 years but never know anyone in pubs unless I arrange to meet someone there. John has been in Maldon less than two years and Gavin as many months, but they seem to know everybody. We were often asked what was the relationship between the three of us was, Gavin would reply ‘I married his sister’ and I’d reply ‘I married his mother-in-law’.

IMG_6698 free beer

John even took us to a free beer tasting event hosted by the local brewery.

IMG_6700 Yellow Snow

Noticing an ale called ‘yellow snow’ I commented that was the title of a Frank Zappa song, the barman nodded in agreement and pointed me to the label on the barrel. They also had a beer called ‘elementary penguin’ so the brewers clearly have a good taste in music (as well as in beer).

IMG_6696 brewery

As I said, John knows everybody in Maldon, so we also given a tour of the micro-brewry by the head brewer.

IMG_6728 tree bud

Back home, mid-December was absurdly warm with temperatures reaching 15c and not dropping much lower at night. Flowers are in bloom, butterfly and bumblebees are on the wing, birds are in full song and trees are in bud. I like four seasons a year not one and half.

IMG_6769 Chris & Ginny

I had hoped to spend a fair bit of time with my two trainee ringers, Chris and Ginny, however the incessant wind that has accompanied the warm weather has reduced the opportunities.

IMG_6709 Sparrowhawk

However we have taken advantage of the few lulls between the storms and have visited several of our local patches, ringing birds like this immature male Sparrowhawk ….

IMG_6726 Redpoll

…. and this breeding plumage Lesser Redpoll.

IMG_6706 Goldfinch abnormal bill

As birds are supposed to be in normal health before they are ringed we released this Goldfinch with a deformed bill without ringing it.

IMG_6718 Chiffchaff ELR143 12 12 15 FLC

At our Fleets Lane site we trapped three wintering Chiffchaffs. One was a typical nominate collybita, but this very brown bird just might be the Scandinavian race albietinus.

IMG_6713 Chiffchaff ELR135 12 12 15 FLC

This bird, trapped on the same day lacks the yellow tones of collybita but does show some green on the bend of the wing and on the fridges of the primaries, together with the prominent supercillium and the whitish belly this could indicate that it is the race tristis from Siberia. A feather from each bird, accidentally dislodged during the ringing process, will be forwarded for DNA analysis.

IMG_6766 Holes Bay

Away from ringing, I have only done a little birding but did take part in the monthly wetland bird count. My area, the southern part of Holes Bay, failed to turn up very much, but the dramatic shower clouds propelled across the Bay by a brisk SE wind were photogenic.

IMG_6719 Star Wars premiere

Being science-fiction fans we managed to get tickets to see the new Star Wars film on its opening day. The steps of the Empire Cinema in Poole were littered with stormtroopers and Jedi knights.

IMG_6730 Phoenix Xmas dance

We only attended one pre-Christmas party, the annual Phoenix dinner-dance (the organisation where Margaret and I met nine years ago). Here Margaret found herself seated next to the only other South African in the Poole group.

IMG_6757 Phoenix Xmas dance

We never had lighting like that when I used to attend discos, a glitter ball was the highlight!

IMG_2206 B mouth Xmas market

Also just before Christmas we visited Bournemouth but paused only briefly at the entertainments near the Winter Gardens ….

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

…. as we were on our way to see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra play at the BIC

IMG_2227 Jools Holland

A superb line up of top class musicians playing rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie. This is the third time I have seen him play and have enjoyed every minute of it.

IMG_2241 Ruby Turner

As always the ‘queen of booie-woogie’ Ruby Turner gave a splendid vocal performance ….

IMG_2222 KT Tunstall

…. as did guest star KT Turnstall.

IMG_2250 Jools Holland

All of which more than deserved a standing ovation.

IMG_6776 Adrian Dominique Francesca A&K Xmas 15

This brings us on to Christmas. This year, along with Janis, Amber and Kara we were invited over to their friends Adrian, Dominique and Francesca’s in Southampton. Amber and Kara have been friends with Francesca since nursery school. Amber has spent the last few months working in Cornwall but came back for Christmas. L-R: Adrian, Amber, Francesca, Dominique, Kara.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

We had similar good fortune on Boxing Day when we were invited for dinner to Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester by Janis’ boyfriend Nigel. L-R: Margaret, Nigel’s daughter Ellie, Amber, Nigel’s son George, Nigel, Nigel’s younger son William, Janis and the children’s grandmother Ros. (Kara is absent as she was invited to go to France by a friend and her parents for the rest of the holidays).

On the 27th we drove up to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother Simon and his family. We also visited my sister-in-law’s parent Ida and Dennis, old friends from school, Martin and Tricia and Di who I knew from University day and her husband Steve in Breedon-on-the-Hill. We also we met up with Nigel whom I was at school and university with and shared a place with for many years. We also did a little birding at Carsington reservoir, a twenty-minute drive from my brother’s house looking (as usual) for Willow Tit and Tree Sparrow – two birds we never see in Dorset.

I have posted photos of friends, family and scenery in the Derby area at Christmas several times before, see these links if you wish to see more.

2014: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/christmas-eve-2014-to-new-years-day-2015/

2013: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/merry-christmas-everyone/

2012: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/26th-31st-december-its-been-a-great-christmas-and-heres-to-a-happy-new-year/

2011: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/25th-december-merry-christmas/ also a number of other posts between Christmas Day and New Year

 

 

IMG_6783 Nigel and Steve

Nigel and Steve cooking pizza, Breedon-on-the-Hill, Derbyshire.

IMG_2252 red sails

As it is Christmas we decided to treat ourselves to a very nice painting, called Red Sails. It is mounted at the top of the stairs. It was painted by Margaret’s sister Cathy in Austria.

Dad

And finally I would like to pay tribute to my dear father Brian. It is 30 years today since he died and 29th December marked 100 years since he was born. Photographed here in 1940, the year that he and Mum got married. I learned so much from my father and it was from him that I got an enquiring mind and the love of discovering places, history, landscapes and wildlife. Both Mum and Dad are greatly missed of course, but their memories are with us always.


Late May to late June 2015: miscellaneous bird news   Leave a comment

We have been back from our trip to the Alps for nearly five weeks now. After a very hectic schedule earlier this year I have been taking it easy and been catching up with things at home, but there has been time for some birding and ringing, something that is covered in this post.

I have already uploaded accounts of us seeing the Red-footed Falcon, White-winged Tern and Greater Yellowlegs in Dorset or Hampshire, here are a few photos of much commoner birds.

IMG_8430 Lodmoor

Back in late May we headed to Lodmoor near Weymouth in the hope of seeing a Purple Heron that was hanging about there. Not surprisingly we dipped, as the best time of day to see it was about 9pm as it flew to roost.

IMG_8409 Common Terns and a Dunlin

We did get to see the local breeding Common Terns and to the lower right of the photo, a summer plumaged Dunlin. The tunnels in the picture are to help protect the tern chicks from attack by aerial predators such as Kestrels. However news received today told that all the chicks on this island have been predated, possibly by a fox or perhaps gulls.

IMG_8424 Grey Heron Lodmoor

No Purple Heron but plenty of Grey ones. This bird looked particularly ragged around the neck.

IMG_8414 Grey Heron Lodmoor

With some blood at the base of the bill I wondered if the heron had been in a fight with a large eel which had wrapped its body around the heron’s neck.

IMG_8574 Mordon Bog

I have made a number of visits to Wareham Forest, especially the area around Mordon Bog. I didn’t get any photos of the local Spotted Flycatchers ….

IMG_8576 Siskin male

…. but this male Siskin preened on a branch just in front of me.

IMG_8587 Mordon Bog

A drake Teal was flushed from this area, unusual record in June – I wonder if they are breeding?

IMG_8683-dog-in-Decoy-Pond

With breeding Little Grebes and possibly Tufted Duck on Decoy Pond, which is part of a National Nature Reserve, it seems regretable that this guy has chosen to take his dog for a swim.

IMG_8447 Yellowhammer Wareham Forest

Other birds seen in the Wareham Forest area included this Yellowhammer ….

IMG_8450 Stonechat Wareham Forest

…. good numbers of Stonechats ….

IMG_8588 Mistle Thrush

…. and on adjacent farmland, this Mistle Thrush.

IMG_8691 Wareham Forest

In early June several birders had distant views of what looked to be a Short-toed Eagle. I was in America last year when a Short-toed Eagle was found and extensively twitched in Wareham Forst, then later in the New Forest. Had it returned for a second summer and was I to get a second chance?

IMG_8692 Charborough Park

Well, I did see a large raptor along side a Buzzard briefly appear over the tree line in the photo, which is in the privately owned Charborough Park about three miles away to the north-east, but again there was nothing conclusive.

IMG_8687 Common Buzzard

After some nine hours of scanning from various vantage points over four days the only raptors conclusively identified were Common Buzzards (above), Kestrels, Hobbies and a single Red Kite.

IMG_8745 Martin Down

We recently spent one morning on Martin Down, just over the border in Hampshire.

IMG_8744 orchid

This wonderful reserve is famed for its chalk downland flora (such as this Fragrant Orchid) and butterflies but along with so many other places much of its bird life has declined in recent years. Nightingales, Willow Warblers, Grey and Red-legged Partridges and even Stone Curlew used to be common or at least regular ….

IMG_8761 Turtle Dove

…. but at least there are still several pairs of Turtle Doves.

IMG_8728 Turtle Dove

This species has undergone a precipitous decline, the result of agricultural intensification here in the UK and on their wintering grounds in Africa and wholesale slaughter on spring and autumn migration in some areas around the Mediterranean.

IMG_8130 Red Kite

Though in many ways its ‘all swings and roundabouts’. Although some of the farmland birds have declined, others such as the beautiful Red Kite are increasing in numbers and I have recently seen two in North Dorset, one over Corfe Mullen and one near Wareham Forest. Don’t pay any attention to those misguided individuals who tell you that the increase in raptors numbers are the cause of songbird decline. It simply can’t be, under that scenario if their prey was declining then raptors would decline too. Also Nightingales and Turtle Doves declined in this area long before Red Kites made a welcome reappearance and Willow Warblers have merely moved their breeding range northwards as a result of climate change (something that others who can’t understand the principle of cause and effect choose to deny). Photo taken recently in Austria.

IMG_8736 corvids

Perhaps less welcome is the large increase in corvids in the Martin Down area. Rooks, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and even Ravens were regularly encountered, often in large flocks.

IMG_6195-Nuthatch-for-email

Over the last few weeks I have been doing some ringing, but for the type of ringing I usually do, migrants at a coastal locality, it is definitely the quiet period. However I have ringed at several sites, usually with trainee ringers and caught a series of juvenile birds such as this Nuthatch. I have had some interesting retraps including a Chiffchaff hatched at our Fleets Lane site last year that returned there this year to breed.

8224SibeChiff1

Something that we have been involved in during the winter months is the ringing of wintering Chiffchaffs. We recently sent off some feathers for DNA analysis on this bird which looked like race tristis,  the so-called Siberian Chiffchaff and on another which was nowhere near as striking and indeed had lots of green tones in the upperparts. To our surprise both came back with a mitochondrial DNA sequence indicating they were tristis. The individual above had a sequence identical to those Chiffchaffs that breed in the Yenesei Basin in central Siberia. I would like to revisit this subject in a future post as I have been writing an article on it for the Dorset Bird Club newsletter, but for now I can suggest that if you find a Chiffchaff looking like the one above in the winter months then it is almost certainly a tristis. This bird was ringed by Paul Morton in January of this year and photographed by Ian Ballam in February.

IMG_6206-Canford-Heath-for-email

Recently I have been asked if I would like to participate in an exciting project on Nightjars on one of the heathland areas in East Dorset. Researchers want ten electronic GPS tags attaching to Nightjars, which will then recaptured a few days later, the tags removed and their movements downloaded. Our ringing group, which has a lot of expertise in catching and ringing Nightjars, has been asked to help. The tags are attached to the tail feathers, so if any bird avoids recapture the tag will be shed at the next moult.

IMG_6213-Nightjar-fem-for-email

Last night we trapped a female Nightjar, which had been initially trapped on the far side of the heathland area the week before, and the tag was removed. It will be very interesting to see what it reveals. So far we have deployed nine of the ten tags and have recovered one, more will follow in subsequent weeks.

Birding/Ringing in the last week – 16th – 22nd February 2015   Leave a comment

 

 

During the last week I have rather busy with paperwork and all of Wednesday was taken up with a trip to London (see next post) but we have got out a few times for birding or ringing.

 

IMG_2583 New Forest

On the 16th we went to Blashford Lakes near Ringwood but saw little of note. It appears that many waterfowl are already leaving for their breeding grounds. Winter seems to be getting shorter every year, which might sound like a good thing, but isn’t from a birding perspective. Later we continued to an area of the New Forest where Hen Harriers are known to roost.

IMG_2589 Fallow Deer New Forest

Surprisingly, in spite of staying until dark we didn’t see any harriers but a Merlin put on a good show as did this herd of Fallow Deer.

IMG_2592

This is a bachelor herd of about 25 males. Unlike Red Deer which shed their antlers after the rut in November, Fallow Deer (a species introduced to England by the Romans) shed their antlers in April/May.

IMG_2596 Great Bustards

We had heard that three Great Bustards were spending the winter along the Purbeck coast. These birds are from the re-introduction program on Salisbury Plain, an ambitious and worthwhile project which is returning this magnificent bird to its former home. On arrival on the morning of the 22nd we saw the birds in the distance but after a while they took off and flew towards us…..

IMG_2602 Great Bustards

…. giving good flight views before settling in an other field. An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. As far as I am aware this group consist of an immature male and two females. I really hope that this enormous, stately bird becomes re-established (the native population was shot out in 1832) and that winter occurences in Dorset become the norm.

A distant Great Grey Shrike

We continued on to Mordon Bog/Sherford Bridge area where we met a couple who had just relocated the highly elusive wintering Great Grey Shrike. Two or three Great Grey Shrikes have been found this winter in Dorset with the same or slightly more in the New Forest, however they are often elusive and highly mobile, often flying for half a mile or so before perching. Our views were distant and brief so I have included a photo of another distant, but more co-operative individual, that I photographed in the New Forest in 2012.

IMG_2574 Bufffinch 5f

I spent a morning ringing at Holton Lee on 17th and Feet’s Lane on 21st. The former was predictably busy with common species like tits, Nuthatch etc trapped. After four winters of ringing there we are building up an interesting picture of the site fidelity and longevity of the birds, with retraps of several individuals that were hatched in 2011 or earlier. This female Bullfinch was ringed at Fleet’s Lane. The grey, brown edged alula and primary coverts indicate it is a first year bird, however the best ageing characteristic is brown edging to the carpal covert, a small feather that can only be seen on the closed wing.

Firecrest-no6

We also retrapped a Firecrest that had been ringed earlier in the winter at Fleet’s Lane showing that it is remaining site faithful throughout the winter.

IMG_2568 Chiffchaff

Our main reason to ring at the Fleet’s Lane site is to study wintering Chiffchaffs. Chiffs, normally a summer visitor arriving from late March onwards and departing from September to October, have become an increasingly common bird in winter. Nobody knows if the wintering birds are British breeders that have opted to stay for the winter or migrants from elsewhere. We have retrapped three or more birds over a number of winters, showing winter site fidelity and have failed to retrap wintering birds after March indicating that they depart to breeding grounds in spring. This individual is typical of the nominate western European race colybita.

IMG_2569 Chiffchaff best

This individual is slightly duller but is still typical of colybita …..

8224SibeChiff1

…. but this bird, photographed by Ian Ballam and used here with permission, is more typical of the Siberian race tristis. I presume that this bird, which is still showing well, is the individual ringed by others in our group on 27th January. The grey tones to the upperparts, pure white belly, very fine wing bar and green edging to the primaries all indicate tristis. If it is the same individual then it was sound recorded on the date of ringing and shown to give the characteristic lost chick call of tristis. So we know that at least some of the Chiffchaffs that winter in the UK come from the eastern side of the Ural mountains, the cloest breeding grounds of tristis. Some consider tristis to be sufficiently differentiated to be considered a separate species.

IMG_1582 Woodcock

The only other ringing I have done this week is joining one of other group members near Corfe Castle  catching Woodcock at night . This is a very interesting species to ring, as the breeding grounds can be far to the east in Siberia, even on the same longitude as Burma (but of course much further north). As Woodcock are regularly shot for food, both when wintering in the UK and on migration , then the ringing return rate is high.

IMG_1583 Woodcock

Sometimes after processing the birds can be placed on the ground and remain still for long enough for photos to be taken.

IMG_1585 Woodcock

We ringed two individuals and saw at least 15, however most flew long before we could get near them. We also saw a Jack Snipe which stayed hidden until the last-minute before erupting at our feet.

IMG_1563 Raven TOL

As I mentioned above, Wednesday was spent in London, after the necessary tasks were performed, Margaret and I spent the day in the Tower of London where the pinioned Ravens performed for the crowds. More of our visit to the Tower in the next post.