Monday, 18 May 2015

Gulls and BTO course

Saturday, the wife and I had 5 houses to view first thing and then our house was being viewed repeatedly in the afternoon. This meant that once we had left home first thing we needed to be out of the house for the remainder of the day. Once the house viewings were done, we wrestled with a few ideas of where to go. We ended up at Hayling Oyster beds. I hadn't checked out the Gull/Tern colony yet this year and was keen to do so.

Gravel bar across the Oyster Beds, Hayling Island
We parked up and walked down the path, my 18 month old son stopping to talk to every dog and owner he could as well as get excited about a tree with Pine Cones. As we were walking we could already hear the din of the colony ahead. Now the main colony is out in the harbour on South Binnes Island, away from disturbance with a no landing policy for boats which is carefully controlled. However in the confines of the Oyster Beds there are a couple of gravel bars that give more space to the ever expanding colony.

BH Gulls and Common Tern
Last year at this time the gravel bars were packed, birds were landing on top of one and other and the Terns had just arrived making it even more crowded. Every patch of viable rock above the waterline was taken. This year there are half the number of birds. Whether they have all chosen Binnes this year I personally do not know and the warden was busy with several parties using his scope and chatting about the birds on the bars to be able to ask this question. What was more bizarre to me at least was the absence of any Med Gulls on the gravel, last year they out numbered the Black Headed Gulls and yet this year there isn't one. I know from friends that Binnes is having a bumper Med Gull season so maybe my speculation is correct that Binnes is indeed the new 'go to' place. This could be due, in part to the way I witnessed the Oyster Beds being used by the public. I saw two families in the far corner of the inlet swimming in the pool and letting their dogs swim in the water too. The birds were all very wary and jittery, frequently leaving their nests after being spooked by the canine headed their way.

Never the less I had a very pleasant time, scanning through the birds that had chosen this inland spot, there were Common and Little Terns present as well as the Black Headed Gulls. A few Meds flew over while I watched and then headed out to the harbour. Through my scope I could see the commotion over South Binnes with an extraordinary amount of birds flying around the island.

Sunday I joined a BTO run course looking at methodologies and skills necessary in order to complete the Breeding Bird Survey, something that I have previously mentioned I intend to partake in next year. The course was being run by Avon Wildlife trust/BTO employee Matt Collis at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre near Poole. The day started with looking at visual ID skills, something I am (big headedly) pretty good at, it was a very interesting look at breaking down ID features to be able to comprehensively and accurately ID certain species, especially confusion species. I even learned a new word. Speculum: The brightly coloured feather on a ducks wing, present in females as well as males and useful for ID.
Beacon Hill has a mix of Habitats from scrubland

The next section focused on songs and calls, and here, in my own mind, is my biggest downfall as a birder. I was very pleasantly surprised, song wise I am actually not bad, being able to ID 90% of the species asked. Calls however was where I really saw a gap in my knowledge. Matt was brilliant with ways to remember calls and even songs. When we got out on the heath for the practical the first bird anyone saw was a Dartford Warbler sitting on top of the gorse, characteristic long tail and jizz, it soon dropped back down into the scrub as the wind picked up.
There were plenty of Stonechats about, one male seen repeatedly carrying food parcels to either a sitting female of his young. The jarring chat noise that gives the birds their name echoing around the heath is like two stones cracking together. There were also, Goldcrest, ChiffChaff, Nuthatch, Kestrel, Carrion Crows, Jackdaw, BHG, Blackcap, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Wren and Linnet about. Almost all picked up by song and call.

The afternoon session was based around planning transects within your 1km BBS square and best practices etc., and how to go about recording all the necessary information both online and in paper form. Matt was incredibly knowledgeable and his ability to pick out even the faintest bird call/song and know exactly what made it is unerring.
To heathland

To Coniferous Woodland

We ended the day on a practical session practicing transect walking and recording. This was great to be able to practice what we would be doing for our BBS squares before actually doing them. I am planning on making some random 1km squares and plotting transects, surveying and recording what's in them just in order to practice for next year!

A massive thank you to Matt Collis, super birder tutor and to the team at the Dorset Wildlife Trusts, Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre. Be sure to check out their Great Heath Project!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Long Live The Reed Warbler

Most people do not realise there is more Wildlife Trust land North of the A27 at Farlington Marshes, know as 'The North Field' this area is a mix of deciduous woodland, bramble scrub and Phragmites reed with the A27 thundering over the top of it. Traditionally holding a mixed head of resident and migrant birds, this is where we chose to ring on Sunday.

Marsh Depiction
Net ride
We arrived at 05:20 and made our way down to the field. We set up 6 nets in total, one being a large dog leg through the central path. This net has traditionally been the 'top performer' during our sessions north of the road.

Once we had finished erecting the nets we had a cuppa before making a net round.... having a chat while drinking our tea, Duncan expressed that he felt this should be a good session. Understatement of the day! The North field usually yields reasonable numbers of birds but has been a winter site for us predominantly due to ringing on the Point Field taking precedence in Spring and late Autumn & with Titchfield being our residence over the late summer/Autumn. Sunday we had 50 birds which is exceptional for the site. This kept us very busy indeed (lots of extraction experience for Amy and I) there were loads of migrants including Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap as well as the more resident species such as Blue & Great Tits, Blackbird, Songthrush, Wrens and Cettis Warbler. There are now 4 different breeding male Cettis Warblers in the North field and at least 12 on the main reserve according to Jason. A real success story for these little skulkers.
Great Tit

Reed Warbler
The real story of the day unfolded after we had left the site. One of the re-trap Reed Warblers that we had processed during the day had an amazing story to tell that goes to show the value of the ringing performed by all the BTO volunteers across the UK & the rest of the world. She(for it was a female) was ringed originally by Jason on 19.07.08 when she was coded as a 6. She was the caught again the following week at the same site, then not seen again until she was trapped on Sunday. This makes her at least 8 years old this summer.
8 years worth of African migration journeys, 16 times she has crossed the Sahara and 16 times she has survived. If
Blue Tit
we take into account the species lays on average 3-5 eggs each brood, and have the ability to have multiple broods each year, she could have had 80 odd young in her lifetime so far. Her migration is around 3500 miles each way meaning in her lifetime she has traveled 56,000 miles in migration alone! Amazing!

On one of our net rounds I walked down a path with a stile at the end of it. A bird took off from the bottom step of the stile, slightly hawk like and dark mottled brown with white primary and tail spots. It flew west towards the playing fields with a slow zig zag flight. I am 90% sure it was a Nightjar and all the evidence supports this, but having been the only one to see the bird properly and even then briefly I'm not going to count it. Having seen Nightjar in the near dark seeing this bird in broad daylight threw me a little so I didn't get chance to call it to the others.

Overall an amazing session for us and I am looking forward to another session on the North field soon. Next weekend I am away on a course with the BTO but the weekend after we should be clear for another session weather permitting.

Entrance gate at the North Field

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Ringing on the Marsh 04/05/15

05:20 meet at the gates of Farlington on Monday morning for ringing. Although early on, the wind was a little high, it was forecast to drop by around 7am so decided on the point field again. The weather was clear, with a south westerly wind. After the last session that resulted in 4 birds we were all keen to see what migration had delivered to the Marsh.

On the walk around to the field, there were Whitethroat & Sedge Warbler singing from everywhere, a group of breeding plumage Dunlin were fast asleep on the shore of the lake and a couple of Mute Swan took off and headed East towards Hayling. The tide was all the way out and the calls of Whimbrel could be heard from out on the mud.

We set the nets in the usual rides and before we had even guyed the poles a Sedge Warbler ploughed into the net! Things were looking good. Our main species for the Point field are Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Sedge Warbler & Whitethroat. All seemed to be in the field in reasonable numbers, although Mipits seem to peak in Autumn. After a couple of net rounds we had ringed a couple of Linnets, a resident male Cetti's and a female with brood patch... already beating the last sessions total.

This cracking male Whitethroat was next into the nets, although a re-trap, it was a very interesting exercise for us Trainee's on ageing and sexing Whitethroats. As this bird was previously trapped by us we could there and then check the book to know what last years age code was and the measurements of the wing chord etc.. On looking at all the features this bird was aged as a 6 male, meaning it is an adult bird. Upon cross referencing with the stats from last year this seemed to correlate nicely. With a pinkish hue to the breast, the eye colour and the head colour this was confidently identified as a male bird. Upon release he sat on a patch of Bramble only two metres away and began singing as well.

Bird song is an area of my birding that requires improvement and seeing birds as they sing is useful for me to be able to visualize the species and associate it with the song/call. This year songs and calls have become my focus to get to grips with, although I realise it requires more than self taught and Xeno Canto recordings to nail it in the field.
The session before this one, Duncan and I were discussing Skylarks, I was asking how you would go about ringing them. Duncan said that traditional nets don't work and that one of the only methods that has yielded many results is single panel nets low to the ground. This make sense as much of a Skylarks life is spent in near vertical flights whilst singing, or bounding across the floor. It was therefore a massive shock when Jason came back from a net round with a 'small Thrush' sized bird clutched in the ringing grip. I don't think I need to tell you all, dear readers what it was...... that's right..... A Skylark. And in the top panel of a 3 metre net to boot. A similar experience happened in the tail end of 2013, when ringing in the North field. I had been asking Duncan about catching Water Rails, he again said that they occasionally crop up but around 1 every 3 years. On the first net round of that morning, there was.... you guessed it..... a Water Rail. I think next week I may have to start a conversation about ringing Golden Winged Warblers................! To see a Skylark up so close was a real treat and well worth the 5am start, considering they often get confused with Meadow Pipits they are surprisingly big in the hand. The bird was ringed and winged before posing for a few photos. The bird obviously a bit grumpy or maybe even embarrassed to have been trapped and ringed!

Another nice surprise of the day was another re-trap Whitethroat, this time an adult female that I had personally rung the year before. It is staggering to think that she has been all the way down to Africa and back again, a feat most humans would fail to achieve under their own steam! She had a well developed brood patch so she was processed, photographed and released close to where she was found in order to return to her nest asap. She was a very good weight possibly pointing to the possibility of still carrying an egg. Its nice to see returning birds to the marsh, it means the habitat is still viable and hopefully this year they will have a good breeding season here after last seasons wet start.

The Marsh itself is looking great at the moment, the Gorse is just giving over to seed, the vegetation is all flourishing and there are birds literally everywhere. With the vegetation all growing up, some of the rides are overgrowing slightly within a week of us using them so needed some attention. A Stoat proved a distraction for a few moments when I saw it crossing the path in front of us in the distance. Stoats are a very rare occurrence on the reserve so nice to see other wildlife eking out a living as well as the birds!

The session continued with more Linnet, a male and a female trapped together. These were processed and released together as were evidently a pair, a retrap Sedge and a retrap Whitethroat, then a Mipit hit the net. A nice new bird for Duncans study of Meadow Pipits on the reserve. The bird was aged as a 4 meaning it hatched before the current calendar year but its exact age is unknown. Close attention was paid the greater coverts for contrast. After deliberation and processing the bird posed briefly for some photographs and was then released back onto the reserve. 

As we were packing down all the kit and packing our bags to head home a Small Copper Butterfly dropped in below us. This is the first of this year for me and first on the reserve of the year too. Peacocks have been very evident the last two sessions so refreshing to see something a little different.

A cracking session and nice to have some migrants back!