Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Calf of Man 2018

The Calf Of Man 2018

Back in April, Dave, Peter N and myself went on a trip to the Calf of Man for a week. The Calf is a small island to the south of the Isle of Man. It is a Nature Reserve and Bird Observatory run by the Manx National Heritage.Having got the ferry from Heysham, we arrived in Douglas and stayed overnight. On the morning of the 1st of May we set off to Port St. Mary hoping to catch our connecting boat to the Calf but unfortunately due to high winds and swell we were unable to go that day and were told we would have to attempt the crossing the following day. Dejected but still hoping to get a window to cross that same day, we set off to the Sound near Cregneash to do a spot of birding to pass the time.

As the day wore on it became apparent we were not going to cross that day and we ended up doing a roadtrip of the IOM stopping off at the Point Of Ayre for a bit more birding and also at Laxey where we had a look at the Laxey wheel which is reported to be the largest waterwheel in the world.                  

We managed to find a great little B&B at short notice called the Bed and Blueberry which was just off the front in Douglas where we stayed overnight. The following morning we were up around 07.30 and after a relaxed start to the day, we made our way once again to Port St Mary optimistic that the weather seemed fairly calm and bright. Unfortunately our mood was not to last when we received a call to say that the weather at sea was not looking favourable, however there may be a chance to get a window around lunch time.
It wasn't long before we received a call to say the crossing was a go and that we needed to be on the harbour quayside for 12.00pm.

We encountered a fairly high swell going over but I'm happy to report no sea sickness. We finally arrived around 14.00 pm and soon got straight into some ringing as we had already lost a day due to the weather.                            

We caught good numbers of Goldfinches throughout the week although the weather was not always in our favour. A couple of the days did start very foggy with drizzly rain so we had to try other means of catching as there was no chance of getting nets open.

Dave and myself took some spring traps down near to the landing slip to try our luck at Wheatear of which there were many. Although we only managed one each, we were both pleased as they were a new species for us with lots of wildlife to watch whilst there: Grey seals and large numbers of Eider duck being the most common.

We continued with our ringing activities throughout the week dodging the continuing morning sea mists and fog by doing whatever we could to get in some ringing. Dave had his first Great black-backed Gull whilst Peter managed to get a Whinchat and also a Wheatear from one of the mist nets.

 Aron the warden on the Calf, decided conditions would be favourable to try our luck at catching some Manxies after the evening de-brief.
Evening de-brief is where all volunteers and helpers come together and report the days' activities, including number counts of animals and birds seen on the island and for the various sea watches that take place each day. By doing this the warden can monitor the passage of birds throughout the year. When this was finished, we had a hot cuppa and set off for the south of the island. After a couple of hours we had managed to catch around 30 birds and headed back to get some sleep .

The following day Aron treated us to a bit of rock climbing to ring juvenile Shag. We seemed to climb most of the rocks on the south side of the island but it was well worth it as the three of us all managed to ring one! A job well done.      

As our week drew to a close it was touch and go whether we would actually be able to get off the Calf due to poor weather forecasts. This meant we also had to cut our trip short at the other end and get off a day early. We were very disappointed but were treated to a great boat trip around the island which the warden had arranged to do a seabird count of colonies on the Island. So we boarded a local boat owners rib which we then toured the island on before being taken back to Port St Mary and then the Ferry back to Liverpool.


On behalf of Dave, Peter and myself we would to thank Aron and his team of volunteers who made our stay on the Calf both rewarding and interesting and hopefully one day we will return .


Monday, 26 November 2018

An evenings ringing

Well I haven't put an entry on the blog for several months, so hear goes. Friday afternoon (23/11/18) myself and Adam met in the Leics car park at the res and with a view to catch Starlings in a roost in the Leicestershire reedbed.
We were set up in plenty of time and manged to catch a few Reed Bunting before the Starlings arrived. As dusk approached the Starling gathered and converged into a large flock of about 600-700 birds above the reedbed. Before dusk the birds started dropping into the reedbed, at this time a Marsh Harrier which we had seen earlier also decided to drop into the reedbed fairly close to the Starlings. we waited with baited breath, 'could we catch the Marsh Harrier?' Unfortunately not.
By the end of the session we had caught Starlings 4,Wren 1, Reed Bunting 4 (5) including a control.
Interestingly we caught  a Reed Bunting that had completely black Median and Greater coverts and Mantle.

After packing away we decided that we would try dazzling in a field adjacent to the reservoir. So with the kind permission of the local land owner we set off for a couple of hours dazzling and were rewarded with 2 Snipe. (this being a new annual record for the group).

Monday, 29 October 2018

Two days in Autumn at Stanford

Autumn is the time for migrants, so the midweek ringers are out and about whenever the weather allows. It sometimes pays off; on the 10th and 11th October we ringed two extraordinary birds. The first was our fourth ever Yellow-browed Warbler; so that is roughly one per decade. This is an autumn speciality which should really be heading from central Asia to India for the winter - so although there are a steady trickle along the UK eastern coast, it is very much an exciting bird to be found at Stanford.
Yellow-browed Warbler - C Hubbard
On the 11th, Mick extracted a Stonechat from the 20' net next to the reservoir. Although this is not a particularly rare bird for spotting purposes, this is the only individual to be ringed at Stanford, despite various lures and traps being used to catch the individuals which have eluded us along the access track, over the years. As can be seen this is a beautiful bird and ends 43 years of waiting. Next please!

Stonechat - P Norrie

Peter N

Sunday, 9 September 2018

House and Swallow

On Saturday 8th September the team sallied forth once more at Stanford Reservoir. Mick and I met at 03:45 to put up nets, allowing the troops (Adam, Dawn, Dave, Stuart and Peter B) to turn up at a leisurely 06:15. The first three rounds were fairly standard, lots of Blackcaps and Chiffchaff. At around 10:00 we had a major flock of 1000+ mixed hirundines come over. Quickly, we turned the callers onto Swallow and House Martin. This gave us good numbers of all three species, mainly juveniles. Clearly these are the most aerial of birds, so it might be interesting for our readers to see the birds in the hand.
This swallow is one of this year's birds. This is shown by the lack of tail streamers, and the rather duller colours in comparison to the adults.
Juvenile Swallow

This house martin is also a juvenile; it too has duller colours than the adults and the tertials have thick white tips.
Juvenile House Martin

On this Sand martin, you can also see pale edges and tips to the tertials, so this is also a juvenile.
Juvenile Sand Martin

The morning was topped off with a new Meadow Pipit. In total we had 137 new birds. A fantastic session was had by all and we repaired in a timely fashion to the White Hart to celebrate. 
Peter N.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Rare Warbler at the Res

We ring approximately 500 Reed Warblers every year. On each of these birds we measure the notch on the second primary and then close the wing to see where it lines up. On Reed Warblers it lies between the last two primaries and the secondaries. We do this because there is a very similar and rare bird, the Marsh Warbler which by contrast has a shorter notch which aligns with the mid-primaries. On Thursday 9 August Mick, Adam and I were working our way through a selection of small birds on the CES, when Adam found a warbler with a notch of 9mm (a bit too short for a RW), but which crucially fell between primary 6 and 7.

Reed and Marsh Warblers

The bird on the left is a Reed Warbler, on the right is the Marsh. As the Collins Guide puts it 'immature Marsh and Reed Warblers are extremely similar'. Something of an understatement. We also confirmed it with the length of the inner claw in relation to the adjacent toe, and the supercilium. This is only the fourth Marsh Warbler to be ringed by the SRG and I think it is true to say that without measuring the notch, we really wouldn't have picked this fabulous bird from its congeners. 

Marsh Warbler

These birds definitely fall into the category of Little Brown Jobs (LBJs), but for ringers that is part of the challenge and we will certainly be measuring our notches for many seasons to come.

Peter N

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Sat 23rd June 2018

On Saturday 23rd we finally experienced one of our best June days for a long time. At 04:30 I met Dawn, Dave, Jo and Peter R at the railtrack gate on a calm and clear morning with promises of warm sunshine by the weather forecasters.
We decided that we would try the stretch from the feeding station to the Point near the hide which has been an area reportedly busy with newly fledged young over the past week.
Pete, our groups helper, soon joined us just as we returned from emptying the nets and the early indications of a busy day were clear as 80 birds were quickly processed in the first round which consisted of many juveniles of Warblers and Tits but very few juvenile Finches or Buntings which was reflected by the lack of adults too. Willow Warbler and Whitethroat were the most numerous warblers throughout the day but there are still no signs of Grasshopper and Cetti's Warbler breeding this year.
Both of Stanfords reedbeds took a hammering during the winter months with heavy snow flattening almost all of the Leicestershire one and part of the Northants side. A single net in the latter proved fruitful with a handful of Reed and Sedge Warblers trapped but we will have to wait until July before venturing over to the other side.
The day continued with reduced but good numbers with each net round averaging around 25 birds which included some newly fledged Willow and Sedge Warblers, these were returned to the area where they had been caught for release. Pulli included single broods of Blue Tits, Tree Sparrows  and Swallows that brought the days total to 193 birds processed of which 117 were juvenile, 64 adults and 12 pulli.
A nice day at the office.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Back to Ringing!

Scrub bashing is now officially over and the breeding season is upon us. Since the 8th of April we have returned to our weekly Saturday ringing sessions. The first two have been quiet, but the southerly winds last week brought warmth and a nice selection of returning warblers.
On April 21st, Peter N and Dave met up at 0530 and put up nets from the feeders to the bench ride- half way along the poplars at Stanford reservoir. We were joined a little later by Mick. The first couple of rounds were quite productive and we welcomed back some old friends. These included Lesser Whitethroats (7), Willow Warblers (2), Chiffchaff (4) and one Reed and Sedge Warbler apiece. The fall of Lessers was particularly exciting, as we had a poor year for these in 2017. Still missing thus far are Cetti’s and Grasshopper Warblers, but there is plenty of time. 
Totals were 17 retraps, 30 new birds. A very promising start to the new season. 
Peter N
Lesser Whitethroat - P Norrie

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

End of a Fabulous Year

Peter N writes: The winter solstice has now passed, and we are into the new year, best wishes for 2018 to all our readers.
Adam, our group secretary, has now compiled the complete records for 2017, These will eventually be presented in the annual report, but here is a brief summary of what we have been up to. Over the year, we processed a total of 61 species comprising 9,874 birds. Of these, 7078 were new, 640 were pulli, and 2,156 were retraps. The commonest bird was the Blackcap (2083), but the rarest was Mick’s stonking Dusky Warbler; a once in a life time event (probably). Just staying with the Blackcaps, if we assume a weight of 18g per bird, that gives a figure of 37.5 kilos total weight- that’s a lot of avian biomass, northern Europe is clearly a productive place. I have been ringing with the group for three years now, and even as a novice have racked up a total of 6,112 birds, so many thanks to all who have guided and generally put up with me over the years.
The group also likes to travel and meet people. During the year we have had expeditions to Cyprus, Spurn and Skokholm. Recently I had an excellent experience ringing in Gambia for two weeks in November. I stayed at the Lemonfish Guesthouse in Kartong, and ringed at Kartong Bird Observatory with a group of fellow Brits. This is a fabulous place, and if you are travelling to the Gambia for a bit of winter sun, should be a must for anyone interested in birding. I ringed 60 new species, which was exciting but what was even more interesting (for me), was getting to ring a lot of waders in the flooded gardens nearby, including a lot of the birds that spend the summer in Europe, e.g. Common and Marsh Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Turnstone. Not uncommon, but difficult to gain much experience with - especially if you live in the middle of England.

Dave is famously reticent about mention of the birds he has ringed abroad, but here are a couple of photos to remind me of warmer times, as we go about our annual scrub-bashing, to get the reservoir conservation work done in time for the return of our warblers:

Long-tailed Nightjar

Oriole Warbler