Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Oxwich Marsh 25 November 2014: a new species for the year

The weather forecast looked excellent.  Very little wind at all for the morning, so the aim was to put out some nets before dawn in a new area of marsh that was being frequented by snipe.

In the event there was a very heavy frost, which made the early morning chilly, especially in wellies, but the rain held off until a light shower at around eleven.  The skies were mainly open, and the nets showed well by mid morning.

The catch was as follows:

Full grown New Birds Re-traps Total
Jack Snipe 1 0 1
Snipe 2 0 2
Wren 0 2 2
Dunnock 0 1 1
Robin 0 2 2
Stonechat 0 1 1
Blackbird 1 0 1
Cetti's Warbler 1 0 1
Goldcrest 1 0 1
Blue Tit 3 6 9
Great Tit 1 2 3
Chaffinch 7 0 7
Greenfinch 14 3 17
Goldfinch 12 3 15
Total: 43 20 63

The highlight was undoubtedly the first jack snipe caught at the site (certainly in recent times).  A beautiful little bird that was aged as a 1st winter on the basis of a narrow outer primary feather, the pattern of the undertail coverts (not spotted / streaked), the pattern of the wing coverts and a number of other supporting features.  What was even more gratifying was that it was caught in the company of a common snipe.  In the hand it was possible to compare the features of the two species: the pale central crown stripe of the common snipe and the dark crown of the jack, and the far longer bill of the common snipe were obvious.  However it was the comparative size of the birds that was most noticeable.  Measurements of the respective birds were wing 112mm and weight 57.7g (jack snipe) and wing 134mm and weight 107.2g (snipe).  A second snipe caught later had a wing of 132mm and a weight of 96.7g.
Snipe (lower) and jack snipe (upper) (photo by Cedwyn Davies)

Snipe (left) and jack snipe (right) (photo by Keith Vaughton)
Other than the snipe species, we caught the 23rd new Cetti's warbler of the year.  This was the 27th unique bird of the year for Oxwich, as we have retrapped 3 Cetti's warblers ringed in 2013 and also one bird ringed at another site.
All good stuff.
Thanks to Cedwyn Davies, Keith Vaughton and Heather Coats for company and assistance this morning.  Particular thanks to Keith for all the help in planning and setting up the additional snipe nets, and to all for persisting until 11:30 (I had to go to work for 09:00).
Owain Gabb

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Oxwich Marsh 22 November 2014

Overnight wind and rain were forecasted to subside by dawn, and for once the predictions proved correct.  The day settled down to being calm, but cool, and there was very little cloud cover. 
Due to the fen meadow ride becoming very boggy in recent weeks, we only deployed 120 feet of the normal 330 feet of net we put in that area.  We did put up nets in the scrub and set out some extra nets in an area of rushy marsh that we have been trying to work for snipe however.  Overall, this resulted in 560 feet of net being deployed.  Nets were taken down between 10:30 and 11:15 in response to a drop off in bird numbers that was probably largely due to the brightness of the day (and the nets becoming very obvious).
The results were as follows:
Full grown New Re-trapped Total
Meadow Pipit 5 0 5
Robin 1 0 1
Blackbird 1 1 2
Song Thrush 1 0 1
Redwing 1 0 1
Chiffchaff 1 0 1
Goldcrest 2 1 3
Blue Tit 7 11 18
Great Tit 1 1 2
Chaffinch 1 1 2
Greenfinch 12 0 12
Goldfinch 11 4 15
Reed Bunting 1 1 2
Total: 45 20 65
The highlights of the catch were a redwing, the first for the site in recent years, another 'winter' chiffchaff (this one showed no northern characteristics) and a good little haul of finches.  One chaffinch had been ringed in 2010.  There were a lot of meadow pipits and a few skylarks moving (we later heard that a party of five woodlark had been found in fields a few km to the west), and the snipe nets came good in the end with a few pipits. 
We are spending a fair bit of time learning how to catch snipe this winter.  Hopefully by the end of it we will have a coherent plan for 2015/16.  This time there were few snipe in the trapping area, albeit there were 60-80 on the marsh.  The nearest we got was when we tried to herd one into the nets, having seen it drop in close by, but it took late evasive action.
As we approach the end of November, the total of new birds ringed at the marsh in 2014 stands at just over 3,200 (47 species). 
Full grown New Re-trapped Total
Sparrowhawk 3 2 5
Snipe 4 0 4
Woodpigeon 1 0 1
Kingfisher 7 1 8
Great Spotted Woodpecker 11 25 36
Skylark 2 0 2
Sand Martin 14 0 14
Swallow 382 0 382
House Martin 1 0 1
Tree Pipit 13 0 13
Meadow Pipit 46 1 47
Wren 58 43 101
Dunnock 54 78 132
Robin 93 59 152
Stonechat 6 1 7
Blackbird 26 20 46
Song Thrush 6 1 7
Redwing 1 0 1
Cetti's Warbler 22 11 33
Grasshopper Warbler 6 0 6
Sedge Warbler 116 10 126
Reed Warbler 144 23 167
Lesser Whitethroat 2 0 2
Whitethroat 42 4 46
Garden Warbler 21 1 22
Blackcap 297 16 313
Yellow-browed Warbler 1 0 1
Wood Warbler 1 0 1
Chiffchaff 135 6 141
Willow Warbler 92 7 99
Goldcrest 68 3 71
Firecrest 3 0 3
Long-tailed Tit 23 10 33
Marsh Tit 2 5 7
Coal Tit 3 0 3
Blue Tit 292 272 564
Great Tit 104 145 249
Treecreeper 1 0 1
Magpie 1 0 1
Starling 2 0 2
Chaffinch 171 37 208
Brambling 1 0 1
Greenfinch 329 76 405
Goldfinch 418 146 564
Siskin 60 55 115
Bullfinch 15 11 26
Reed Bunting 140 73 213
Total: 3238 1142 4382
The meadow pipits included both adult and first winter birds.  One of the 1st winters had a very pale head.  It is pictured below (right), along with an adult (left).
Meadow pipits (Charlie Sargent)
The adult shows no contrast in the wing coverts i.e. there is no moult limit (this would be expected as all of the coverts will have been moulted).  The greater and median coverts are edged pale buffish brown, and there is a small 'tooth' into the buff edge of the median coverts.  The 1st winter bird (right) in contrast shows whitish margins to the retained coverts (greater and median) - this indicates these feathers have not been moulted, and more pronounced teeth in the median coverts (extensions of dark colouration into the white fringes). It is also noticeable that the flank streaking of the 1st winter is less marked than that of the adult (a feature illustrated in the Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe) and that the tertials are heavily abraded.  In some of the first winter birds there was an obvious moult limit in the wing.  This one does not appear to have moulted many greater and median coverts at all - those visible in the photo are all juvenile.

A picture of the redwing, taken by Keith Vaughton is below:

First winter redwing
The target for the end of the year is probably now 3,500 new birds, although we will need good weather and some decent catches to reach it.  We are also approaching some good milestones in terms of reed bunting (which is one of the real targets on the marsh), goldfinch and chaffinch.  New species are probably now more luck than judgement, and it is difficult to see an obvious candidate.
Thanks are due to Darren Hicks, Wayne Morris, Charlie Sargent, Heather Coats and Keith Vaughton for assistance and company yesterday.
Owain Gabb

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Oxwich Marsh 15 November 2014

The forecast was for a light south-easterly wind.  Unfortunately the wind was nearer moderate and fairly gusty, but at least there was no real sign of rain.  The wind clearly limited the catch: the goldfinches around the feeders were very aware of the nets, and our attempts to catch snipe seemed fairly optimistic.   It had been almost a year to the day since we caught our first local scarcity at the marsh, a firecrest, however, so there was some cause for optimism.
The catch was as follows:
Full grown New Birds Re-traps Total
Snipe 1 0 1
Wren 0 1 1
Dunnock 0 2 2
Blackbird 0 1 1
Blackcap 2 0 2
Chiffchaff 2 0 2
Goldcrest 2 0 2
Long-tailed Tit 1 1 2
Blue Tit 4 7 11
Great Tit 1 2 3
Chaffinch 1 0 1
Greenfinch 1 0 1
Goldfinch 3 1 4
Total: 18 15 33
We did manage to capture one snipe.  A bird flew into the nets just after we set up.  In my rush to get to the nets to extract it I fell in a ditch, going up to my neck in icy water.  The bird was a first winter.
Other features of the catch were two blackcaps, two chiffchaffs and two more goldcrests (we are now approaching 70 goldcrests trapped on the marsh this year). 
One of the chiffchaffs was a strikingly pale Siberian-type (tristis) bird slightly reminiscent of a Bonelli's warbler.  It had very pale underparts, with no yellow on the flanks or throat, was grey brown on the head and back and only showed any green on the flight feathers.  There was a very obvious broad supercilium that extended well past the eye.  A picture of the bird, alongside a more typical chiffchaff, is below.
Siberian chiffchaff (left) and more typical collybita
So, in summary, another good but quiet session with a few highlights.  Not in the same league as Charlie Sargent's efforts the day before, when he trapped two great grey shrikes on his new site in Carmarthenshire.  An account is here: http://birdringers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/fygyn-common-new-site-new-nets-new.html
Thanks to Cedwyn Davies, Heather Coats, Charlie Sargent, Wayne Morris, Emma Cole and Phil Mead for company and assistance this morning.  Also particular thanks to Darren Hicks for keeping the feeders filled this week while I have been working away.
Owain Gabb