26 September 2015

Meadow Pipit legs and a Poldark encounter

With the wind dropping for a couple of days we took the opportunity to get the Meadow Pipit triangle up for the first time this autumn. We decided on Gunwalloe, as we could ring in the reedbed at the same time, hoping for some late warbler interest.

Over yesterday and today, we handled 134 birds (123 new and 11 retrap) of which 81 were Meadow Pipits. Not too shabby for so early in the autumn, but there were lots of birds passing, but most chose to settle just outside and around the triangle! But it was a good chance for new recruits to get to grips with a nice species with a useful moult pattern.

If you're lucky, you can see the difference in shape of the primary coverts between this adult bird (top)
and a first-year bird (bottom), with the latter being more pointed at the tip.
We also saw a bewildering aray of colours in these birds, with most typically quite bright olive green, but we also saw some rather brown birds, a very grey bird and also one with very distinct orangey flanks and upper breast (but still just Mipits!). It was unusual that these paler birds also had very pink legs and feet, compared to yellow on the greener birds. More on these later in the autumn...

The reedbed nets also produced a few late warblers (two Sedge, four Reed and five Cettis's, including one ringed as an adult in 2011), Stonechat and a smart Kingfisher. A single extra net also did us proud with a Garden Warbler (first ever caught at Gunwalloe) and two Firecrest (also the first caught here!).

We're not used to sharing the overflow car park at Gunwalloe with anyone, especially not at 6 in the morning, so it was a surprise to find it full of vans, lorries and 30+ cars. A quick chat with the security guards later and we found out this was in fact a day of filming for Poldark. We did invite the main man to grab his scythe and clear a new ride, but he declined...

13 September 2015

Online ringing report released

The BTO has recently released the 2014 online ringing report which, for the first time, includes information on nest recording totals and also timing of breeding for many species. The report is freely available on the BTO website and is well worth a look.

Looking just at the figures for Cornwall, the contribution the five-year-old ringing group has made, to nest recording in particular, is clear from the annual totals. Obviously the totals are due to the efforts of many different recorders, but I think group members can take some worthy credit.

The online report also details some of the more interesting movements of ringed birds reported in 2014, and some of the highlights involving Cornwall include:
  • Brent Goose from Iceland that stages on Strangford Lough every autumn before wintering at Torpoint
  • Storm Petrel ringed in Portugal in June 2013 and recaught at The Lizard in June 2014
  • German-ringed Spoonbill seen on Amble Marshes
  • Red Kite ringed in the nest in Shropshire in 2013 and seen at Towednack in June 2014
  • From Norway, a Kestrel was found dead in Perranporth in November and a colour-ringed Curlew Sandpiper was seen on the Camel estuary in September, just two weeks after ringing
  • Woodcock ringed near Coverack in February 2013 was shot in Russia in April 2014
  • Black-tailed Godwit colour-ringed in Iceland in July 2010 and seen at Devoran in December 2010, then on the Ouse Washes (Norfolk) in February 2011 and back at Devoran in December 2011, December 2012 and November 2014
  • Curlews from Germany (x2) and The Netherlands seen in the county
  • Swedish-ringed Turnstone seen in Penzance harbour 
  • Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls seen originating from Poland (4), Denmark (2), The Netherlands and Belgium
  • Colour-ringed Mediterranean Gulls seen originating from France (18), Hungary (9), Poland (8), The Netherlands (2), Denmark, Germany and Belgium
  • Guillemot ringed on Skomer Island in 1989 and found dead near Bude 25 years later (the national longevity record is 36 years old!)
  • Britain's first ever foreign movement of a Chough involved a French-ringed bird seen in Devon in January 2014, Cornwall in February and on the Isles of Scilly in March
  • Firecrest ringed in Norfolk in December 2013 and recaught a year later in Penryn and a bird ringed at Stithians in December 2012 recaught in Southampton in October 2014 (recaptures of Firecrest more than a year after ringing are unusual) 

  • Sand Martin ringed at Nanjizal in July 2014 was recaught in France a month later (the first movement abroad of a Cornish-ringed bird)
  • Unusual autumn movement of a Blackcap ringed at Nanjzal in September 2014 and recaught the next day on Lundy Island, 144km distant
  • Danish-ringed Reed Warbler recaught at Nanjizal a month after ringing (only the sixth to be found in the UK) and a Danish-ringed Dunnock died hitting a window in Truro (the first foreign movement ever involving Cornwall and the first Danish-ringed Dunnock found in the UK)
  • Chaffinch ringed at the Stithians feeding station in December 2011 and recaught in Norway over two years later in March 2014

12 September 2015

Up-country warblers and a lesson in coverts

We recently received details from the BTO of two warblers caught on our penultimate CES ringing session at Gunwalloe on 16th August, both originating from up-country. Reed Warbler D992026 was ringed at Squire's Down, Dorset, on 11th August so had made the take just five days to make the 230km trip down to Cornwall. It almost certainly did it in one go though, and had also had time to put on some pre-migration weight, fattening from 11.2g to 12.4g in those five days.

An altogether different bird was Sedge Warbler Y941821, ringed at Icklesham, Sussex, on 6th August 2013. You then wonder if this bird chose different autumn migration routes as a juvenile and adult, now coming further west, or was this just coincidence.

The only other ringing of late has been a bit of garden ringing for new trainees, but it's always good to catch some instructive birds. The Blue Tit below very nicely shows the contrast between retained juvenile coverts (dull greeny-blue) and moulted adult-type coverts (blue). This bird had moulted all bar one of its greater coverts, the carpal covert and just the smallest alula feather, so see if you can identify them all in the pic!

Think we'll be able to identify this Dunnock without recatching it!
As an aside, I also dropped into Devoran before high-tide in the evening to check the roosting Curlews, to find two colour-ringed birds. We think the below might be a Scottish bird (the single yellow ring was coded BI) and the other bird looked German, but refused to stand on more than one leg in all the time I was sat watching!

8 September 2015

Tent-roosting Swallows

Instead of using our large wooden roosting box, last night we used a pop-up tent to roost some Swallows caught in the reedbed at Gunwalloe. The video below shows them being released at dawn, with all birds successfully dry and safe in the roomy tent.

Although the birds came in to roost very late, of the 350 birds present we caught 76, including a recapture of a bird we ringed in the Gunwalloe roost in July 2014 and also a bird ringed on the Isles of Scilly on 20th August, so heading completely the wrong way in autumn! What was equally surprising was that 24 out of the 76 birds caught were adults (32%), compared to 27 out of 284 (10%) ringed at roost earlier this year.

2 September 2015

Blyth's Reed Warbler at Nanjizal - a first for Cornwall

In what didn't look like overly-promising weather, the regular autumn mist-netting at Nanjizal continued this morning, producing 93 birds, including five Reed Warblers, four Grasshopper Warblers, three Garden Warblers and what must surely be one of the birds of the autumn in the county! Blyth's Reed Warbler is a long-overdue bird for Cornwall (with a single record from Devon eclipsed by five in Dorset and no fewer than five on the Isles of Scilly), but this didn't detract from the excitement of finding one in a mist-net!

So here are just a few photos and details of the bird, with no doubt more to follow...

Blyth's Reed Warbler will always be a difficult bird to identify in the field, but the rounded wing,
with very short primary projection, can be seen in this bird. Also note the indistinct supercilium,
broad-based bill and the forehead peaking behind the eye.
The identification clincher can be seen in the open wing, with both P3 and P4 (primaries) emarginated:
the narrowing of the outer web of the feather towards the tip of the wing.
On other 'reed' warblers this emargination is only seen on P3.

As if we need to plug the site even more, but any visiting ringers wanting to join the ringing group at Nanjizal can find out more details elsewhere on the blog.

1 September 2015

Final CES of the year

This morning finally saw the end of the CES season at Gunwalloe. With the rides getting wetter and wetter, we're not overly sad to see this last session done! The total of 30 birds seems low but was the highest visit 12 total yet and did include a Kingfisher: only the second ever caught at Gunwalloe.

Whilst we missed three visits mid-season due to poor weather, it was still a very productive year, with more birds caught on visits 10, 11 and 12 than any year since we started in 2011. In fact the year total of 366 birds (315 individuals) was the highest since the outstanding 676 in the first year we ran the site.

Catch totals by visit in the five years of CES at Gunwalloe, with 2015 in red

The change in the annual total is primarily driven by catches of Sedge and Reed Warbler, but the table below also shows interesting changes in some species, in particular the crash in Reed Bunting numbers.

  2011    2012    2013    2014    2015 
Sedge Warbler 30/85 33/36 13/64 19/41 35/79
Reed Warbler 88/96 60/48 52/63 43/65 42/61
Blue Tit 23/22 14/8 2/16 4/17 13/30
Wren 5/14 0/9 6/4 5/5 7/14
Cetti's Warbler 3/12 3/0 0/1 1/2 2/1
Reed Bunting 8/13 8/3 2/15 3/3 1/1

The fact that just two Reed Buntings were caught on CES this year seems incredible given the double-figure numbers in every other year.

The most notable recaptures this year included two Blackbirds and a Cetti's Warbler ringed in 2011, and two Wrens and a Dunnock ringed in 2013. For the migrants, we retrapped two Sedge Warblers originally ringed in 2013, but the recapture (and presumably survival) rate of Reed Warblers seems higher, with captures of two Reed Warblers ringed in 2011, one ringed in 2012 and nine ringed in 2013.