30 June 2014

Stormie weather

In Cornwall we're more used to stormy weather in the form of crashing waves and gales, but just occasionally we get Stormie weather in the form of a calm, moonless night. After catching just two Storm Petrels in May, we improved somewhat last night with 49 birds, which is still not too bad for June. As you can see below, July is normally our most productive month, so hopefully this catch total will only improve...

May June July August
2011 (Porthgwarra) 2 15 176 3
2012 (Lizard) 0 0 88 7
2013 (Lizard) 0 39 158 76
2014 (Lizard) 2 49

The highlight though was a control from a new country for us - Portugal. We've caught a fair few birds from France and one from the Channel Islands, but this was something a bit new. Interestingly, the Cornish page of the BTO's online ringing report shows that to the end of 2013, nine Portuguese-ringed Storm Petrels have been caught in the county (out of 234 nationally), compared to 28 from France (strangely only 58 nationally) and just four from the Channel Islands (two of which were ringed on the same day in June 2008).

Our Portuguese control before being rebagged to get its night vision back pre-release
Speaking of stormy weather, it looks like our seabirds are still suffering the after-effects of the winter storms, with birds seriously struggling now. A quick look at Rinsey this afternoon produced a few dead Shag chicks of various ages, including some very well-grown birds. At least three birds have already fledged and there are still a few more to go, with one late bird still on eggs!

The killer blow though was the complete absence of any Kittiwakes! The bustling breeding cliffs were eerily quiet. Last year, just six breeding attempts all failed at the egg stage, but this year has been even worse, with three failing at the egg stage and one pair did manage to hatch a chick but this sadly has now also gone.

One a slightly more pleasant surprise was this very pale Shag chick, complete with yellowy feet. We've seen one or two of these before, but it'll be interesting to see what this looks like as it feathers up (and hopefully fledges).

This 'zombie-Shag' looked a gonna, joining the other dead chicks,
but a late scan back across the ledge saw it awake and most certainly not dead!

25 June 2014

The year's first rehab owls

As part of our work monitoring breeding Barn Owls in the county, we also help the guys at the Screech Owl Sanctuary in their rehabilitation work. They do some great work taking in and rehabilitating orphaned and injured owls and before they're released we drop in to ring them to help monitor post-release survival. This has been really successful in recent years, with a few subsequent reports showing that birds survive well after a spell in care. This year has been really quiet at the sanctuary (is that a good thing?), and this afternoon we ringed the first birds admitted so far this year.

Barn Owl chick needing some tlc after being found
on a barn floor, but looking pretty good now
Three orphaned Tawny Owl chicks on the left and a road casualty adult on the right,
all looking much happier and healthier after a stint in care. These birds are very
close to being released now, currently residing in their own private, undisturbed aviary
All birds are ringed with standard BTO rings before release

Whilst most of the birds admitted are Barn and Tawny Owls, we have also ringed one Short-eared Owl which was found with a broken wing near The Lizard. It didn't look good for a while, but after surgery the bird was fit enough to be released back at The Lizard. The sad end to the story is that this bird was killed by a car at Roche (53km from The Lizard) just 25 days later, presumably on its way back north to breed.

23 June 2014

Another poor CES visit and pasty-snatching gulls

A couple of us did the postponed CES this morning at Gunwalloe and despite the mud, sweat and much cursing, managed a paltry 23 birds. This doesn't exactly compare well with the 132 bids on the same visit in 2011, but oddly does beat the nine birds from last year. Most of this morning's catch were Reed Warblers (16, including two birds ringed in 2011), but a juvenile Whitethroat and an adult Swallow added a bit of interest. Finally (!!) we also caught our first Cetti's Warbler of the year; a bird we originally ringed as an adult back in 2011 and not recaught since. Having said that, one of the 2011 Reed Warblers hadn't been caught since ringing either...

On the gull front, last week was a bit manic, variously ringing 'pasty-snatching' gulls in St Ives (10 adults), rooftop gulls in Falmouth (nine chicks) and Great Black-backed Gulls on both Mullion Island (16 chicks) and Looe Island (74 chicks). The latter isn't our project, but read more about it on the Tamar Wildlife site. All of these gulls also received shiny new colour rings, so ones to keep an eye for in the future.

Blue W:186, caught with the help of an ice cream, turned out to be the
regular bird that holds territory at Rod's Deckchairs in St Ives
Sunny day on Mullion Island ringing gull chicks (Daisy Salmon)

We've also just seen the final county ringing totals on the BTO's online ringing report and it's interesting to compare with group totals. This is more a reflection of the lack of ringers in Cornwall, but in 2013 the group ringed ALL of the Storm Petrel (235), Cormorant (11), Shag (6), Kittiwake (10), Dipper (3), Stonechat (15), Wheatear (3) and Linnet (45) ringed in the county! Blowing our own trumpet a bit, we also ringed more than 90% of Meadow Pipit (392), Goldfinch (314) and Reed Bunting (48) in the county. So again a big thanks to everyone who helped out or let us ring on their land in 2013.

At the county level, more Great Black-backed Gulls (80) and Jackdaws (480) were ringed in Cornwall in 2013 than any other county, withe other notable totals for Rook (62, beaten only by Sussex) and Yellow-browed Warbler (19), losing out to the Northern Isles: Orkney (29) and Shetland (31).

18 June 2014

A day of gull coincidences

Yesterday two of us had a nice day out at the seaside, eating ice creams in St Ives. Well when I say eating ice creams I mean tempting in a few food-snatching gulls to drop a hand net over. Three ice creams and a bit of sandwich later and we'd ringed and, more importantly, colour-ringed 10 Herring Gulls. It proved to be quite a spectacle on the packed prom and beach of St Ives, with small crowds of tourists and locals gathering every time we struck - good PR but a bit nerve-wracking!

Some birds didn't seem overly worried by the whole affair, with the first bird we ringed back in the same spot 30 minutes later chasing other gulls off his patch. But after an afternoon along the same strip of prom it did become strangely gull-free, so obviously word had spread of what we were up to.

Blue W186 back on territory by Rod's Deckchairs on the prom

Leaving St Ives, we headed south towards Nanceldra where we knew that some of our GPS data-logger gulls hang out. One favourite spot is the largest dairy farm in the area, with roofs full of gulls and crows. As we passed another favourite field we noticed a bird with unusually rather fat legs sat on a telegraph pole. A rapid stop in the middle of the road later and we could confirm this was W:182, a nesting female ringed by us in May.

Spot the fat-legged gull
A slightly better digi-scoped view of W:182,
though you can't quite see the backpack-mounted data-logger
We then continued on to another area where birds have recently been seen, and speaking to the owners they confirmed that there had been lots of mowing recently which is what the birds have been homing in on - mowed rodents! Bizarrely they even knew of the tagging project through friends who own the B&B we stayed in back in May in St Ives!

But an even more bizarre coincidence was that this same couple had found one of our Barn Owls dead last year and promptly popped into the house and presented us with the ring back! They also knew the owner of the farm where we ringed the bird two years ago and while we were there it seemed rude to not check their three owl boxes, but sadly no birds.

So a very crazy afternoon of coincidence and certainly worth the minor injuries sustained diving after gulls on the prom...

Knuckles are over-rated anyway

16 June 2014

Dire CES and our first Kittiwake chick

The last few days have been busy as ever, including a very poor CES visit to Gunwalloe. The graph below shows how our catches in the reedbed have been pretty poor this year (shown in black) in comparison to the previous three and our recent session was barely any better, with 17 birds only a slight improvement on last year. The catch was mostly Reed Warblers, but here's hoping it'll pick up soon...

On a slightly better note, a quick visit to Rinsey yesterday found our first Kittiwake chick of the year. Not so good news was the fact that there are very few pairs in the zawn and that two birds that were on eggs have now lost them...

I do wonder if the apparent decline in Kittiwake numbers has something to do with the concurrent increase in the number of pairs of Herring Gulls in the zawn. From only a couple of pairs a few years ago there are now as many as 15 pairs, which must have some impact on the Kittiwakes.

Herring Gulls are much earlier breeders than Kittiwakes,
with pairs already with well-grown young
We've also recently met up with Shaun Boyns who runs the National Trust's West Cornwall Barn Owl Project and hopefully in the future we'll be able to work with Shaun to monitor their nestboxes. The project is just taking off now, with 18 new boxes going up this year, so this would be an exciting addition to our network of sites.

Three Barn Owl chicks at the National Trust offices at Treveal

9 June 2014

Pulli weekend

It's that time of year when we're pretty occupied ringing pulli and this weekend was no exception. Friday saw us ringing the last few nestbox tits, including these Blue Tits (two of the five ringed) from the camera box on the side of my Lizard house. They're actually quite late, as most of the birds being monitored by University of Exeter students have already fledged or are close to.

I was also able to join Dale Jackson to ring one of the numerous broods of Peregrines he monitors and rings on behalf of the ringing group. They've not had the best year so far, with only 17 birds ringed (and colour-ringed) so far, compared to 25 in a 'normal' year - if that exists these days!

It's been a long time since I've jumared (you'll get the idea here),
so getting back up from this nest was hard work!
We were also able to revisit a few local Barn Owl sites that we either hadn't got round to yet, or had eggs/small chicks at the previous visit. We ringed a few broods of four (with a couple of smaller chicks going unringed), including this very smart-looking bird near St Keverne. But not all were so far advanced, with one bird near Gweek still sat on six eggs...

At least three of our sites still have birds on eggs,
which may well be replacement broods after failures
While we were in the area, we were also able to drop in and ring a brood of Song Thrushes in one of Greg's nestbox woods. The brood of four were a good size for ringing and were obvously hungry...

What's for tea!
With some of our urban gulls growing up wuick we'll no doubt be visiting a few Falmouth rooftops soon and then back over to Mullion Island for some Great Black-backed Gulls!

3 June 2014

Dire CES and productive owls

At the weekend we managed to cover both our third CES visit at Gunwalloe and also a bunch of Barn Owl boxes across the south/west of the county, with varying success.

Conditions for CES were pretty perfect, but the catch of just 11 birds (inc five Reed Warblers) is the lowest yet for Visit 3: previous totals were 19 in 2013 (10 Reeds), 32 in 2012 (18 Reeds) and 54 in 2011 (16 Reeds, but the high total includes 16 Sand Martins). This is perhaps a bit worrying given that it seemed to be a good early start to the season, so it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the season develops. One interesting captures was L494918 caught whilst puting up nets the night before; a bird ringed as a young juvenile at Marazion Marsh in 2001 and not caught since!

We fared better on Sunday, visiting 14 Barn Owl boxes between St Austell, Newquay and Penzance. Of these, most were occupied, which is an improvement on last year, and we captured six adults, four of which had already been ringed in previous seasons. Surprisingly two boxes still had incubating birds which seems very late, and two more had chicks too small to ring. But we did find several boxes with good sized chicks and ringed 18 birds in total.

Some of the smallest chicks, less than a week old
This amorphous blob confused us for a moment, but is a
remarkably fluffy 2-3 week old chick, along with
three unhatched eggs
A bit more like the size we like to find birds to ring,
although we did leave one smaller (doomed?) sibling in the box
A couple of Stock Dove interlopers in the same box
they were in last year, near St Mawgan