3 February 2017

Big boxes on the Lizard

Stuck in the middle of the usual winter storms, our winter mist-netting has been rather limited, so we've been occupying ourselves with our big nestbox projects. Thanks to funding from Paradise Park in Hayle, we've been able to start replacing old and siting new Barn Owl nestboxes around the county. This winter we've only put up eight new boxes, but with requests for boxes still coming this is just the start! This does take the number of sites we monitor up to 84 though, so it's going to be a busy summer...

Most of the boxes are being sited in large open barns in areas where we know Barn Owls frequent, so we're hopeful that take-up will be quite high. Below are just a couple of examples of the boxes we've put up, and you can see that this isn't always a simple procedure!



As an aside from the Barn Owls, we've also just started a project to put up Kestrel nestboxes, as many of the sites we visit have the potential to hold both species. This is a bit of a new thing for us, with the first Kestrel box going up at a farm on the Lizard yesterday. Unlike Barn Owls, Kestrels really do like a room with a view, so the box below is in the perfect location!
We know it looks wonky, but it's the photo - honest!

22 January 2017

Wonderful Waste Water Works

After a very busy Chiffchaff morning at Carnon Downs works, now seems like a good time for an update. Perfect conditions this morning allowed an amazing catch of 73 Chiffchaffs, including no fewer than eight tristis race birds! Our catch also included two controls from Nanjizal (45km as the Chiff flies), including a tristis ringed on 1st December. Equally interesting was the recapture of a bird ringed at Gwennap works on 5th January; the first time we've recorded any bird moving between two sewage works sites! It may only be 4.5km between these sites, but for all the time we've netted at various sites this is a notable first.

After such a big catch, we then decided to work out our Chiffchaff totals for the year. It turns out we've ringed 151 Chiffchaffs, including 14 tristis birds. This is a bit artificial though, so the more sensible totals are for the whole winter; 211 Chiffchaff ringed, of which 22 were tristis! These totals really do go to show how important these sites are for wintering Chiffchaffs. Just for fun, below are a few of the recent tristis birds, some taken in apparently poor light...

Two very different-looking tristis


Two tristis, with a collybita for comparison

5 January 2017

Parisienne chic at the sewage works

It only seems right that our first ringing session of 2017 should be rather similar to our last ringing session of 2016, so it was off to the sewage works this morning. In two nets we managed to catch a non-too-shabby 67 birds, which included no fewer than 31 Chiffchaffs.

The only slightly shabby thing about the morning was the state of the forehead of the bird below, as it seemed to be moulting in new head feathers. But it may just be Parisienne chic, as it was already wearing a French ring, so it'll be fascinating to see where it's from!


There are just 26 records of French-ringed Chiffchaffs being found in the UK, with two of these being in Cornwall, including one we recaught at Carnon Downs sewage works back in February 2012.

19 December 2016

Continental Coal Tit (?) and more Sibe Chiffs

Another calm week gives us the opportunity to get back into our sewage works sites, with this morning seeing us at Gwennap works. The cold weather meant that good numbers of Chiffchaffs were taking advantage of the abundant insects on site, and our 58 birds caught included an impressive 33 Chiffchaffs. Of these, five were 'Siberian' Chiffchaffs (tristis race), some more distinctive than others.

But the highlight was this rather interesting Coal Tit, which we're pretty sure was of the nominate Continental race. Whilst it didn't have the classic peaked-crown appearance, the blue-grey mantle and very extensive bib do seem to point towards this race. We're keen to hear other opinions though...



The five tristis Chiffchaffs also gave us the opportunity to compare the extremes of the race, with two birds being of the classic cold grey appearance, whilst the others showed varying degrees of olive/yellow in the plumage. Below is one of the least obvious examples, but DNA identification of such birds does always comes back as tristis.


14 December 2016

Cormorant coincidence

This afternoon we received a report of one of our Mullion-ringed Cormorants, seen at Chard Reservoir, Somerset in early November. But the bizarre coincidence was that it had been photographed stood next to a second colour-ringed bird, ringed as a chick on Kreupel Island in The Netherlands earlier this year.

Orange TB6 and red BR together at Chard Reservoir
Kreupel Island has a fascinating history, being created as a bird refuge between 2002 an 2004 when 3 million cubic metres of dredged material was dumped on an existing sandbar. It is now home to Europe's largest Common Tern colony.

Many thanks to Kevin Harris for reporting this bird, with the photo above coming from the Chard Reservoir sightings page.

23 November 2016

Return to the sewage works

After a long absence we've finally managed to get back access to our sewage works sites for the winter, which is great news. Last week we had out first session at Gwennap works, ringing 11 Chiffchaffs, including one tristis bird.

This morning we headed to Ponsanooth and although it was a bit quiet (to warm) we did have a good morning with a few interesting birds, so below are a few of the highlights (thanks to Jack Burton for the better pics!).

Although showing a few green and yellow tones, we're sure this is also a tristis Chiffchaff
Green Woodpecker showing off it's sticky tongue
The general plumage and length of the first primary indicated this was an adult female,
but one that had oddly retained just one primary covert, on one wing only
A cunningly-placed net managed to intercept one of the two Green Sandpipers
using one of the settling tanks

We often think of Robins with spots as juveniles, but this bird was ringed in November 2014.
The give-away is the fact that the spots get larger towards the outside of the wing,
rather than towards the ody as in a juvenile bird.

15 November 2016

Late autumn 2016 at Nanjizal - 100 Yellow-broweds and counting

Like many ringing sites in the UK, 2016 didn't seem to be the best of breeding seasons, with the cold, wet spring seeming to have reduced the amount of successful first broods. Compared to 2015, the most noticeable drop in numbers over the autumn was for Sedge Warbler, from over 1,300 ringed to barely 700 this year. This may have been due to the weather and slightly reduced coverage, but the national picture seemed to be show a poor breeding season. Blackcaps were late arriving in September and, like Sedge Warbler, in much lower numbers. The current total of just over 1,450 again compares poorly to the 1,933 ringed in 2015. The only real up sides saw Willow Warbler pretty stable at 469 compared to 473 last year, and Whitethroat actually increased, from 248 to 366.

During September coverage was similar to last year, but increased dramatically in October with extended periods of calm weather. During this later part of the autumn, the most noticeable absentees were the crests. There may yet be more to come, but the total of just 167 Goldcrest is well down on last year's 469. Similarly, just 27 Firecrest ringed so far doesn't compare to the bumper catch of 114 in 2015. The highlight of the autumn though was the mass arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers. After the dramatic increase in 2015 (with 22 ringed), this autumn has so far seen an incredible 105 birds ringed, with 13 ringed in one day alone! Long-distance movements of Yellow-broweds are rare, so we were surprised to catch a bird in 2015 ringed in Lincolnshire the week before. This year, we retrapped a bird on 31st October that had originally been ringed at St Abb's Head, Borders on 9th October, almost 700km to the north.


Other unusual species trapped during the autumn include two Nightingale, four Wryneck, Melodious Warbler, Marsh Warbler, an unprecedented two Paddyfield Warblers, two Dusky Warbler and Little Bunting. With the weather now turning for the worse, it's doubtful we'll get many more days in before packing up at the end of the month, which is a pity as the thrushes have arrived and the ongoing turnover of Chiffchaffs has included numerous tristis, with several 'Siberian' Lesser Whitethroats also turning up, but more on these later...





7 October 2016

Stripe overload with SEVEN Yellow-broweds ringed

It's always a highlight of a day out birding or ringing when you come across a Yellow-browed Warbler, so to find three on our first net round at Nanjizal was an absolute bonus! These stunning little birds originate in the Siberia and used to be rather scarcer than they are now, but with hundreds arriving along the east coast over the last couple of weeks it was only a matter of time before they filtered down to the southwest.

Three happy ringers with a Yellow-browed each
As if that wasn't enough, our second net round also produced three unringed Yellow-broweds, with one later in the morning bringing the total to a staggering seven birds! This brings the autumn total to10 birds, which compares well to previous years: the annual total in Cornwall counting backwards are 24, 13, 19, 8, 3, 4, 1, 7, 6.

The morning ended on 167 birds ringed, including 44 Blackcap, 28 Robin (fresh-in Continental birds), 27 Meadow Pipit, 26 Chiffchaff, two each of Willow and Reed Warbler, Grey Wagtail and Stonechat, a single Firecrest and the mystery bird below... Scroll down for the species.
















A very smart first-year female Whinchat!

21 September 2016

Big day at Nanjizal

It's not often the ringing group has a really busy day netting, but this morning was a bit of an exception. A small group of us headed to Nanjizal, with weather conditions looking good and lots of birds around locally. We weren't disappointed, and the first net round alone must have produced 150 birds! OK, so 50 of these were Meadow Pipits from a V of nets we'd set up, but many of the rest were Blackcaps.

Just one net, full of Blackcaps

We ended the busy morning on 248 new birds, including impressive totals of 96 Blackcap, 71 Meadow Pipit, 32 Chiffchaff and five Grasshopper Warbler. Add to that a scattering of common species and singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Firecrest, Grey Wagtail, Garden Warbler and Wryneck. Rather bizarrely, the Wryneck was in the Meadow Pipit nets, sat right out in the middle of a field!


Whilst we were all out an about, we took the chance to visit a few Barn Owl sites to check for  second broods. We didn't find any, but did have one box occupied by a ready-to-fledge Stock Dove. Interestingly, this is actually a much less frequently ringed bird in Cornwall than Wryneck; the last five years have seen seven Wrynecks ringed, but only four Stock Doves!

12 September 2016

A day of colour-ring reads

Since we've started colour-ringing Cormorants and Great Black-backed Gulls on Mullion Island we've also aimed to read rings on these birds locally and yesterday a few ardent colour-ring readers did a sweep of a few local sites.

Cormorant TBT (ringed on Mullion in April 2016) was at Drift Reservoir, whilst Hayle estuary only produced a single St Ives-ringed Herring Gull. Stithians Reservoir fared slightly better, with three of our Herring Gulls seen; one from St Ives and two from Falmouth, including W:001 which was one of the first birds ringed by the project.

W:001 as a chick on the roof of Falmouth Marine School in 2013
Elsewhere, one of our Herring Gulls was seen at Helston Loe Pool, but was flushed before the combination could be read - by the visiting Dalmatian Pelican!


Further along the coast, closer to Mullion Island, a walk along the cliffs at Halzephron (north of Gunwalloe) is sometimes productive, though another of our Cormorants sat offshore was too distant to confirm. We did manage to get close enough to a group of loafing Great Black-backs to find one colour-ringed bird, but it wasn't from Mullion Island.

Yellow 0JJ6 is a bird ringed as a chick off Herm in the Channel Islands in June 2010 and was seen around the islands until spring 2011. This isn't its first trip to Cornwall though, as it was seen on Hayle Estuary October 2011, with only two sightings since; back on Guernsey in September 2012 and then in France in May 2013. So where it's been for the last three years is unknown.

The small roost at Halzephron Cliffs, with Mullion Island in the background