Monday, 28 September 2015

Oxwich March 23 & 26 September 2015: meadow pipits, reed buntings and a few late long-distance migrants

A short mid-week session and a longer Saturday session (with more net) both proved worthwhile.  A total of 172 birds were processed, with the breakdown as follows:

Species
New Birds
Recaptured
Total
Great Spotted Woodpecker
0
2
2
Meadow Pipit
34
0
34
Wren
2
1
3
Dunnock
5
4
9
Robin
2
2
4
Blackbird
0
1
1
Song Thrush
1
0
1
Reed Warbler
4
0
4
Blackcap
9
0
9
Chiffchaff
11
0
11
Willow Warbler
1
0
1
Blue Tit
19
9
28
Great Tit
2
4
6
Nuthatch
0
2
2
Treecreeper
1
0
1
Chaffinch
16
1
17
Greenfinch
10
0
10
Goldfinch
2
4
6
Siskin
1
0
1
Reed Bunting
19
3
22
Total:
139
33
172

The settled weather seemed to have resulted in the last of the reed and sedge warblers moving out, with four reed warblers and a willow warbler on 23 September possibly being the final sub-Saharan migrants for the marsh this year.  

On Wednesday there had been an influx of reed buntings to the marsh.  These birds apparently moved through very rapidly, as we only trapped three of the overall total of 22 birds on the Saturday. We have now ringed almost 300 reed buntings at the marsh in the past three years (including 236 in 2014 and 2015 so far), and for much of the year re-traps dominate newly ringed birds.

The low catch on the Wednesday (46 in 3 hours in very good ringing conditions) provided good intelligence for Saturday, allowing the amount of net to be increased considerably. This included a pipit triangle, erected in an area of rushy pasture some distance from the normal net rides.  Although we only used it for about 2 hours, it returned a total of 34 meadow pipits.

The pipits showed their usual considerable variation in colouration, streaking, weight (15.g-21.7g [with no bird carrying more than 3 fat]) and wing length (73-86mm).  During the session we only caught one adult bird, which was straightforward to determine due to the uniform colouration of its wing coverts and its fresh primaries.  The first winter birds exhibited wide variation in the extent of post juvenile moult undergone, with some replacing one or more tertials (and others none), considerable differences in the numbers of retained old greater coverts between birds, and some out of sequence moult of both median and greater coverts noted.

Meadow pipit
Meadow pipit (a yellower bird than the above)

Comparison of 1st winter (left) and adult (right) wings (photo Keith Vaughton)

In the photo above the uniform coloration of the wing coverts of the adult bird is apparent, as are the small points in the dark centres of the median coverts (as opposed to the longer thorns in the first winter bird).  For more interesting pictures of early autumn meadow pipits, see: 
http://cornishringing.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/meadow-pipit-legs-and-poldark-encounter.html

Visible migration of siskins over the last week has not resulted in large numbers visiting the feeders to date (albeit we did trap one on the Saturday), despite the large flocks of greenfinches and goldfinches that might have been expected to draw them in.

Thanks to all of those who have made it out last week: Val Wilson, Heather Coats, Emma Cole, Charlie Sargent, Keith Vaughton, Dan Rouse and Suze Lewis.

Owain Gabb

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Oxwich Marsh 19 September 2015: an unexpected skylark

A very light breeze that swung from the north to the south-west over the course of the morning, and relatively open skies resulted in a very pleasant morning on the marsh.

We erected a total of 700 feet of net, including a triangle of 40 foot nets for catching pipits, a line of 400 feet of net along a bund through the marsh, and a few other nets in scrubby reedbed edge habitats.  The hope was to catch some late autumn reedbed warblers, some chats and reed buntings, as well as meadow pipits and maybe a late tree pipit.

We managed to achieve most of what we set out to.  The catch of 69 birds was as follows:

Species
New
Re-trapped
Total
Kingfisher
1
0
1
Skylark
1
0
1
Meadow Pipit
15
0
15
Wren
5
1
6
Dunnock
2
1
3
Robin
1
0
1
Stonechat
4
0
4
Reed Warbler
2
2
4
Blackcap
5
0
5
Chiffchaff
6
0
6
Goldcrest
2
0
2
Blue Tit
5
4
9
Great Tit
1
0
1
Reed Bunting
10
1
11
Total:
60
9
69

The highlights were a kingfisher (the third of the year to date [seven were trapped in 2014]), a reasonable haul of 15 meadow pipits (which allowed us to start to get our collective eye in with regard to ageing them), an excellent haul of four stonechats (all first winters), a couple of reed warblers and eleven reed buntings (of which ten were newly ringed).  The most unexpected bird of the day was a skylark however.  While we had caught two birds in 2014, this was in a net configuration set for pipits on a day in late autumn when overhead passage of skylarks was occurring. Catching a bird on a narrow strip of enclosed open ground between two stands of reed was a real surprise, and it took a few seconds and a couple of double takes before we absorbed it.

We missed out on a fly over tree pipit and a whinchat.  The latter, a very well marked bird, spent some time in the vicinity of the nets, and we delayed closing in the hope that it might find its way in.  


Kingfisher (1st winter)

Stonechat (1st winter)
Skylark

The kingfisher was aged as a first winter based on the brown colouration of the feet and tarsus and the grey hue to the breast feathers.  It was considered likely to be a juvenile male (due to the blue / blue-green as opposed to green / green-blue colour of the crown, lower-back and rump) - albeit the subjectivity associated with this meant it was not formally recorded as such.

The stonechats were all first winter birds.  In all the greater coverts had been completely moulted, and one had also moulted the alula feathers.  However clear contrast was noted with the primary covers (and the alula feathers in those birds that had not moulted them), and they generally showed a fair amount of wear in the tips of the primaries.  Tail feather shape and the colour of the inside of the upper mandible were also examined.

The skylark was not aged.  Both adult and juvenile birds undergo a complete moult between July and late autumn and are therefore indistinguishable.  Based on biometric data provided by Svensson (1992) the bird was likely to be a male.

It will be interesting to see if we have now seen our last reed and sedge warblers of the year.  In 2014 the last reed warbler was captured on 27 September and the last sedge warbler on 1 October (after a gap of three weeks from the penultimate capture).

Thanks to yesterday's team of Heather Coats, Cedwyn Davies, Dan Rouse, Darren Hicks, Wayne Morris, Val Wilson and Mike Shewring for company and assistance.

Owain Gabb
20/09/2015

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Welsh Ringing Course 11-14 September 2015

The Welsh Ringing Course took place between the afternoon of Friday 11 September and late morning of Monday 14 September.

There were fourteen course participants, whose aspirations ranged between simply gaining more experience, to being assessed for (one of) their 'C', 'A' or Training Permits.  The course was led by Kelvin Jones, the Wales Development Officer for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).  Other ringing trainers present were Heather Coats of the Gower Ringing Group, Allison Kew (BTO), Martin Hughes (independent trainer and former member of the BTO Ringing Committee) and Gwyn Roberts. Practical support was provided by members of the Gower and Kenfig Ringing Groups and Viola Ross-Smith (BTO).

The weather over the four days was very mixed.  The wind direction veered between westerly and south-easterly, and was generally higher than ideal.  Regular showers and spells of heavy rain, particularly on the Saturday, when the participants split into two teams and went to Oxwich and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Reserve at Llanelli respectively, made the role of the support team (or helpers) critical.

Over the four days 409 birds of 31 species were processed.  The breakdown was as follows:

Species
New
Re-trapped
Total
Great Spotted Woodpecker
0
1
1
Sand Martin
1
0
1
Swallow
109
1
110
Meadow Pipit
7
0
7
Pied/White Wagtail
1
0
1
Treecreeper
2
1
3
Wren
2
4
6
Dunnock
1
5
6
Robin
3
8
11
Whinchat
1
0
1
Stonechat
3
0
3
Blackbird
1
3
4
Song Thrush
1
1
2
Cetti's Warbler
1
2
3
Grasshopper Warbler
1
0
1
Sedge Warbler
42
1
43
Reed Warbler
13
1
14
Whitethroat
1
0
1
Blackcap
33
3
36
Chiffchaff
7
1
8
Willow Warbler
2
0
2
Goldcrest
4
0
4
Long-tailed Tit
9
4
13
Blue Tit
19
16
35
Great Tit
2
22
24
Nuthatch
0
1
1
Chaffinch
6
3
9
Greenfinch
16
8
24
Goldfinch
14
6
20
Siskin
1
3
4
Reed Bunting
7
4
11
Total:
310
99
409

The highlights were capturing:
  • Over forty sedge warblers.  All were recently fledged birds;
  • 110 swallows, including a 'control' bird (an individual originally ringed elsewhere and re-trapped [at Oxwich]);
  • A first winter pied/white wagtail, a bird which resulted in much deliberation and was not conclusively determined to race (some birds cannot be based on current knowledge);
  • The second whinchat for Oxwich for the year (another first winter bird); and,
  • The eleventh grasshopper warbler of the year at Oxwich.

A spotted flycatcher evaded capture on the final morning, and raptors noted at Oxwich included goshawk (2), sparrowhawk (which bounced out of one of the nets), kestrel, red kite and buzzard.

Although most of the course revolved around diurnal mist-netting, a spring-trapping session on the storm beach at Overton (with the permission of the Wildlife Trust) led by Cedwyn Davies of Gower Ringing Group, and an evening swallow roost session provided some variation.  Between busy periods, talks were given by Allison Kew to course participants.

(Most of) Team B at Overton.  L-R Colin Gunnell, Suze Lewis, Martin Hughes, Ed Stubbings and Patrick Hancock
Ageing and sexing a whinchat.  L-R Ed Stubbings, Paul Aubrey and Kevin May
The course was very enjoyable, with many participants making positive comments, and a number of people receiving / being recommended for permit upgrades.

Thanks are due to members of the Gower and Kenfig Ringing Groups who gave up their time to enable the course to run smoothly.  In particular Cedwyn Davies and Phil Mead for running the spring trapping session at Overton (as well as their help on site at Oxwich), Dan Rouse and Valerie Wilson (for patiently transcribing data) and to Chris Newberry, Keith Vaughton, Darren Hicks and Paul Aubrey for assisting in numerous ways.

Thanks are also due to Nick Edwards of Natural Resources Wales for supporting the course and encouraging ringing at Oxwich, to the WWT for continued permission to ring on their Llanelli reserve, and to The Gower Society who have provided financial support (a grant) to ringing at Oxwich in 2015.

Owain Gabb
14/09/2015