Archive for the ‘Siskin’ 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.

Central Peru part 4: Huariaca area and Lake Junin – 17th – 19th November 2016.   Leave a comment

 

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After leaving the Huanaco  we explored areas near Huariaca, notably this steep-sided canyon.

 

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It was a bit of a slog climbing up the steep sides but we were getting used to the altitude.

 

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Meanwhile our ever helpful drivers prepared lunch. Note how the use of a telephoto lens has altered perspective, the front of the bus appearing wider than the back. This ‘size illusion’ can be critical if you are comparing the size of one bird in a photo (say a peep) with another species (say a Dunlin) that is a little way behind it.

 

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Some of the species we encountered well familiar to us like Band-tailed Pigeon ….

 

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…. but eventually we found our target, the rare Rufous-backed Inca-finch.

 

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The following morning we stopped at an area of polylepis forest in the upper Huariaca valley.

 

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We encountered a number of localised species such as this Giant Conebill ….

 

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…. as well as widespread ones like Cream-winged Cinclodes.

 

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One of our main targets was Stripe-headed Antpitta which had eluded us up to now. We eventually caught up with it in this grove of gnarled polylepis trees.

 

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Much of the polylepis forest has been felled, either for firewood or to replace it with alien and wildlife unfriendly eucalyptus which is preferred as its fast growing straight trunks can be used in construction and as windbreaks. However as this photo shows if coppiced polylepis can grow straight and quite quickly.

 

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By the afternoon we arrived in rocky basin that holds the enormous Lake Junin, the second largest lake in Peru (after Lake Titicaca)

 

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Surrounding areas held a good range of species including Burrowing Owl ….

 

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…. Puna Ibis ….

 

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…. this lovely pair of Aplomado Falcons ….

 

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…. the now familiar Black-billed Shrike Tyrant ….

 

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…. Ornate Tinamou (photo by my friend and trip participant Steve Lowe)

 

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Buff-breasted Earthcreepers showed nicely.

 

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In general there is less variation in English from one field guide/checklist to  another the Neotropics than in any faunal region yet the field guide confusingly calls this Plain-breasted Earthcreeper.

 

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This rodent was eventually identified as an Ashy Chinchilla Rat

 

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We could look out on the expansive waters of Lake Junin ….

 

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…. and the many lagoons that fringed its shores.

 

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Photography (for example of this Andean Avocet) was difficult as we would have flushed the birds if we had disembarked, so it had to be done through the single opening window which resulted in several of the group performing strange contortions.

 

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One of the stars of the show were these Chilean Flamingos ….

 

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…. but although Chileans were common we didn’t see James’ or Andean Flamingos, species that mainly occur on the salt flats further south.

 

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One of the highlight of this trip was seeing the normally invisible Black Rail. Although I have heard this species in the USA it is very rarely seen. Patiently waiting with our eyes fixed on this gap in the reeds we waited for one to respond to a tape, in the end we saw a pair but they was too quick for photos. The Lake Junin form differs vocally from other populations and probably should be split as Junin Rail.

 

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With storm clouds gathering ….

 

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…. it was time to head to the town of Junin for our overnight stop

 

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There was time for some birding on the outskirts of the town …,

 

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…. avoiding the gaze of a local knitter ….

 

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…. we searched for species like D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant and ….

 

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…. Andean Flicker

 

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The following morning we met up with a boatman who took us along a channel and out into the middle of the lake.

 

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The boat was at its mooring but the outboard was safely stowed elsewhere. The boatman slung the 80kg engine over his shoulder and ran towards us; all this at an altitude of 4100m !

 

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Many birds were seen on our way out such as this Great Egret

 

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Andean Gulls were breeding on the margins of the lake ….

 

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…. and were are constant companions until we were far from shore.

 

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The many ducks included Yellow-billed Teal ….

 

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…. Puna Teal ….

 

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…. and Andean Duck, a species that is sometimes lumped with the North American Ruddy Duck

 

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White-tufted Grebes were easy to find but they were not our main target ….

 

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Far out in the middle of the lake we came across four Junin Grebes, a flightless species endemic to this one lake. Official estimates give a population size of over 400, but our boatman, a local warden and others who know the area well think it could be as low as 40. The species is threatened by pollution from local mines and the introduction of Rainbow Trout.

 

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Until the 70s there were 23 species of grebe in the world but in a short space of time three went extinct, one each in Madagascar, Guatamala and Colombia. In each case it was due to a change in water use, usually the introduction of predatory fish which ate all their food or the pollution from agriculture. It now looks like two more species will join them in the near future, Junin Grebe and the Hooded Grebe of Patagonia. Junin Grebe was the last of the 20 extant grebes for my world list but my joy in seeing it was tempered by the thought that we could be some of the last birders to do so.

 

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Whilst the outboard and boatman were delivered to their rightful destinations we birded around the nearby buildings seeing many Bright-rumped Yellow-finches

 

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…. some living up to their name.

 

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Also there were good numbers of the beautiful Black Siskin.

 

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The male Black Siskin in particular is quite a stunner.

 

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We had good views of this Andean Cavy, the wild ancestor of the Guinea Pig.

 

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Our time at Lake Junin ended with a search for a hummer called Black-breasted Hillstar, whilst we did see it well, it was nesting inside a barn and the photos were poor. However this Magellanic Horned Owl that was found nearby posed nicely.