30 September 2014

Lizard Arctic Warbler eludes...

Well having spent the morning trying to get to grips (not literally) with an incredibly elusive Arctic Warbler in Church Cove, Lizard, I've been playing catch-up for the remainder of the day! The warbler was found by group ringer Tony Blunden first thing and despite being heard calling a few times has eluded most people. A really dull Wood Warbler hanging around the churchyard has also added to the confusion at times...


But anyway, in more important ringing group news (and to explain the random begging dragon above!), one of our ringing group members will this weekend be doing something quite stupid and needs your help... Luke Edwyn Marsh, from Falmouth Marine School (who fund a lot of our seabird work), will this Sunday be leaping out of a perfectly fine aircraft at 15,000 feet (yes, 2.84 miles!!) as part of a big fundraising day for Pete's Dragons.

Luke (right) in his more natural habitat: ringing gull chicks on Mullion Island
The dragons fundraise for two charities: The Samaritans and Cornwall Search and Rescue Team, the latter obviously very important to me as a SAR team member! But Luke ('Enter the Dragon') is still a bit short of the funding he needs to do the jump, so what better way to use the power of the ringing group blog than to try to add a few pounds (or hundreds of pounds??!!) to his pot for these worthy causes.

Members of Cornwall Search and Rescue Team steep slope
rescue training earlier in the year; a vital technical skill
So if you'd like to read a bit more about Luke, then he's 'dragon of the day' today so check him out on the Dragon's website, and to donate click the dragon below! If just 20% of the readers of our recent Paddyfield post felt inclined to donate just £2.84 (miles to pennies...), then we'd add a whopping £354 to Luke's pot! So if you can spare a pint's worth of cash, then please donate away...


23 September 2014

Complete Goldfinch moult and other eccentric finch moults

It's long been known that some finches will undergo a limited moult of their primaries as part of their (partial) post-juvenile moult. It's not always easy to spot, but over the last couple of days we've seen some good examples in my Lizard garden. This Greenfinch is easily aged as a first-year bird (juvenile) by virtue of its relatively fresh plumage and brown-centred, pointy primary coverts. But you'll notice that it's in primary moult, with one feather still growing and another fully-grown inside it. The moulted feathers are not only fresher, but have much blacker centres, greyer tips and the yellow portions on the outer web are brighter than the juvenile feathers. But note that in this type of eccentric moult, the corresponding primary coverts aren't replaced.

The difference in the colouration of the moulted/unmoulted feathers is obvious here
This same pattern of moult is seen in several other finch species, including Goldfinch, Siskin and, rarely, Linnet. Two Goldfinches bizarrely caught at the same time today also showed this same moult pattern ,but had already finished moulting. So whilst they didn't have any obvious growing feathers, the contrast in the two ages of feather is still obvious enough. Both birds had just moulted two primaries in the centre of the feather tract.

Note the difference in the base colour of the feathers and also the degree of wear
on the white tips of the new feathers and those inside them
The second bird was very similar. Note how the two new feathers not only have
much 'smarter', unworn white tips, but also have much brighter yellow outer webs,
forming a brighter yellow patch in the wing.

Interestingly though, we did also catch a Goldfinch that was just finishing a complete moult, having moulted all flight feathers (primaries AND secondaries), primary coverts (seemingly) and tail. We know this was a first-year bird, as it was ringed as a 3J (complete juvenile) on 26th May. This is a much rarer pattern of moult, but unfortunately we don't have any photos of this bird!

Apart from garden ringing, we've also been helping out a Masters student at University of Exeter, helping to fit PIT tags (transponders) to Blue and Great Tits. This is part of a study looking at the effects of supplementary feeding on fitness in birds. PIT tags allow birds to be recorded remotely at feeders, checking themselves in and out of a feeding aviary as they pass through an aerial.

Although it looks clunky, the PIT tag on the right leg (on the left here) is very light,
and acts like a bard code which scans as the bird enters the aviary.

17 September 2014

Nanjizal update: Barred and Aquatic Warblers ringed

Ringing at Nanjizal has continued at a fair pace, with the September ringing total now just over 1000 birds. The totals for some species are also really building now, including 44 Grasshopper Warbler (138 for the year), 182 Sedge Warbler (1248 for the year), 98 Whitethroat, 400 Blackcap, 78 Chiffchaff and four Redstart. Even better are the tit totals: just eight Blue and two Great!

On the rarer front, both juvenile Barred and Aquatic Warbler have been caught, adding to the already impressive species list for the year, and a close call was a Western Bonelli's Warbler sat by a furled net on 15th.

Barred Warbler ringed on 8th September
Aquatic Warbler ringed on 9th September, caught as nets were being furled!
Anyone wanting to ring at Nanjizal over the remainder of the autumn (and needing somewhere to stay), should have a look at the Nanjizal page on the blog for more info.

16 September 2014

Another gull coincidence

Following the bizarre gull coincidence we blogged about before (here), they just keep coming! On the weekend I needed to go out to St Ives to replace a battery on one of the relay stations (that bounce the downloaded logger data to our base station) and also to retrieve one of the loggers from the Co-op roof that had either fallen off or been removed by one of the gulls... We knew the bird was alive and well as it had been seen on Hayle estuary by ring-reader extraordinaire Steve Lister (holidaying Leicestershire county recorder), but the tag was still just transmitting from the rooftop!

One of the two relay stations in St Ives
The retrieved logger, unfortunately now minus aerial
Whilst I was there it would be rude to not have a look on the beach for some of our birds... As ever, W:186 was still mugging children on the beach by Rod's Deckchairs (now accompanied by two begging juveniles) and on the beach by the ice cream parlour was W:194.

W:194 on the beach at St Ives, 20m from where it was ringed!
Once these jobs were done I decided to drop in to Hayle estuary to have a quick look through the gulls there. Not only did I bump into Steve Lister (and show him the logger dropped by the bird he'd seen earlier in the week), but also spotted a couple of our St Ives birds. Nothing really special there, until I realised that one of them was W:194 which must have followed me down from St Ives! I worked out I'd been watching it on the beach in St Ives just after 3pm and then watching it on the estuary at Hayle at 3:50pm. OK, so it's only a matter 4km from St Ives to Hayle as the gull flies, but I was impressed by the coincidence!

W:194 45 at Hayle, less than an hour after I'd been watching it in St Ives

5 September 2014

Early autumn at Nanjizal - and an early Paddyfield

Autumn ringing at the private 'off site' at Nanjizal, near Land's End, has been picking up, with some pretty good numbers of birds ringed over the last couple of months. The totals are all checked now and make for impressive reading...

July - 1,090 new birds ringed

The top three species in July were Sedge Warbler (314), Willow Warbler (120) and Chiffchaff (86), although the supporting cast also included an excellent 45 Grasshopper Warbler and 68 Whitethroat.

Net full of Grasshopper Warblers

August - 1,184 new birds ringed

The top species in August was unsurprisingly Sedge Warbler again (658), taking the number ringed at the site in 2014 over the 1,000 mark (1,079 to be precise)! Second was Whitethroat (166) and then Blackcap (65), though the supporting cast was a bit more varied, including 2 Water Rail, Little Ringed Plover, 8 Tree Pipit, Redstart, 33 Grasshopper Warbler and Cornwall's fifth record of Paddyfield Warbler; a juvenile caught on 31st August.

The long-tailed appearance of Paddyfield Warblers is in part due to their very short wings
The fresh flight feathers age this Paddyfield Warbler as a juvenile bird

Nanjizal will continue to be regularly ringed through the rest of the autumn, and the next couple of months should bring big numbers of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, along with a few surprises (recent highlights include a very smart Red-eyed Vireo). Any ringers wishing to help out at Nanjizal over the autumn are welcome to come along and there is cottage accommodation nearby which sleeps four people. If you fancy coming down to help out then get in touch with us via the 'Contact us' page above.

3 September 2014

Aquatic Warbler recaught in France!

Back in August 2012, we were lucky enough to catch a juvenile Aquatic Warbler on our CES at Gunwalloe, not at the more expected Marazion Marsh where we specifically play 'tape-lures' for them on autumn migration. This was a complete surprise on CES, but not as surprising as today's news...

Y752695 at Gunwalloe in August 2012
We heard just this morning that Y752695 was recaught by French ringers in August 2013 (yes, a year ago...) at Reserve de Briere Sud in western France. This is amazing news and a great link between the migration sites in the western UK and western France. Interestingly, this isn't our first exchange with this reserve, as a Reed Warbler ringed there in August 2010 was recaught by us as a breeding bird at Gunwalloe in  July 2011.

The global population of Aquatic Warblers is just 15,000 pairs, concentrated in eastern Europe (and further east), wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. So although we can put dots on the map linking Cornwall and France, we can also put a big smudge where this bird will have bred in summer 2013...

The BTO's online ringing report has details of just two previous foreign movements of Aquatic Warblers from the UK. These were birds ringed within a day of each other in August 2006, both recaught shortly after in France (one recaught 234km away the next day and another recaught 394km away nine days later!). In fact, 2006 was the last year double-figures of Aquatic Warblers were ringed in the UK (11 birds), with the most since then being 2012 (seven birds), including two in Cornwall.

So the movement of our bird is a really nice addition to the migration picture for this globally endangered bird.

2 September 2014

Last CES for 2014

This morning saw three of us running the last CES visit of the year at Gunwalloe. The day dawned pretty cold and wet, so we weren't overly optimistic for a big catch... But in the end, the total of 27 birds was the most we've ever had on the last visit, ranging from 13 to 21 in previous years. This continues the trend of having much better catches late in the season this year...

Dawn over the reedbed at Gunwalloe
Visit totals on CES since 2011

Most of the catch were Sedge Warblers, a surprisingly large number of which were carrying plenty of fat. The heaviest was an adult weighing in at 17.2g, compared to a juvenile of similar size with no fat that weighed 9.4g!

Bit hard to see, but this is a Fat 7 Sedge Warbler (on a scale of 0 to 8)
The difference in wear on flight feathers between juvenile (left)
and adult (right) Sedge Warbler is pretty obvious!

Numbers of Sedge Warbler were the lowest since we started the CES in 2011, with Reed Warblers also pretty low in number. 

2011 2012 2013 2014
Reed Warbler 184 108 115 110
Sedge Warbler 115 69 77 60
Cetti's Warbler 15 3 1 3
Total catch 533 235 257 226

Apart from Sedge and Reed Warblers, the only other bird of note was a juvenile Cetti's Warbler: a species that hasn't done too well at Gunwalloe over the last few years. Compare numbers on the CES in 2001 to those the last three years!

Finally, thanks to everyone that's helped out with the CES this year and it's been pretty grim at times, especially on the so-called 'wet ride' which turned into more of a swamp than anything else over the last few visits...

The notorious Gunwalloe 'wet ride'