Thursday, 29 October 2015

Oxwich Marsh 25 - 28 October 2015: autumn thrushes

Late October has seen unsettled, but not particularly wild weather, with varying wind speed and short periods of rain.  In the calmer periods we have been able to get a couple of ringing sessions in. During the first of these a light to moderate south-easterly wind meant we restricted our netting to areas of sheltered scrub, while during the second session a light south-westerly wind allowed us to ring in the open reedbed.  We were hoping (in particular) to catch some redwing, as large numbers are moving through at present.

The combined results of the two sessions were as follows:

Species
New
Re-trapped
Total
Wren
5
0
5
Dunnock
1
1
2
Robin
0
4
4
Blackbird
3
0
3
Song Thrush
2
1
3
Redwing
62
0
62
Cetti's Warbler
0
1
1
Chiffchaff
1
0
1
Goldcrest
16
2
18
Firecrest
1
0
1
Long-tailed Tit
7
1
8
Coal Tit
0
1
1
Blue Tit
21
13
34
Great Tit
3
5
8
Chaffinch
8
1
9
Greenfinch
4
0
4
Goldfinch
8
4
12
Reed Bunting
9
5
14
Total:
151
39
190

The highlights over the combined visits were an excellent catch of 62 redwing, continued good numbers of goldcrest (taking us to 135 individuals captured this year), a first winter male firecrest (the third of 2015) and a steady, light stream of reed buntings.

The redwing were moving over the marsh in large numbers on the morning of 28 October, and the use of the much vaunted Latvian lure proved very effective.  Flocks of 60-80 birds were regularly seen milling around before moving away west.  Birds were trapped over a period of three hours, with the period between 15 minutes before dawn and two hours after dawn being the most productive.

It may be of some interest to note that while the first twenty or so redwings we trapped this autumn were roughly evenly split between first winter and adult birds, the last 60 have been approximately 2:1 (1st winter to adult).  Wing length varied between 111 mm and 126 mm and weight from 54.2 g to 69.9 g on 28 October.  Very few were carrying visible fat, with a maximum score of 2 recorded (based on the British Working Group (BWG) fat scoring system).

Reed bunting is one of the target species at the marsh.  We will probably ring in the region of 140 birds this year (124 to date), as well as processing birds ringed in 2014 and before (we have caught a further 24 birds ringed in previous years in 2015).  It has been nice to get some recent news of reed buntings controlled at other sites, albeit these have been from the north side of the Burry Inlet (Cefn Sidan) by Paul Aubrey and at Nitten Field, Mewslade by Barry Stewart.  Hardly international movements.  However it is very clear that numbers in the marsh fluctuate, sometimes unexpectedly, and it will be very interesting to build up a data set on them over the coming years.

During the first of the two sessions we were visited by former Wicken Fen ringer David Butler and family.  Luckily their arrival corresponded with a varied catch, allowing the children to see a number of species (mainly tits and finches) up close, and also the firecrest just prior to its release.

Many thanks to Wayne Morris, Emma Cole, Paul Aubrey and Dan Rouse for their help on Sunday, and to Charlie Sargent and Darren Hicks for running the Wednesday session.  Some really good late autumn results.

A photo of one of the redwings is below

Owain Gabb
29/10/2015


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Oxwich Marsh 16-20 October: early winter warmers

Due to the settled easterly weather we completed three sessions over five mornings.  On two of the sessions we had very few ringers available, and consequently limited net out. During these sessions we concentrated our activity in the open reed bed and in an area we have been targeting autumn passage goldcrest and chiffchaffs (a ride through a small area of mature scrub with a canopy that passes over the net).  We knew that we would catch relatively few birds, but there was a good chance that any we did would be of particular interest.  On the Saturday (when wind speed was higher) we targeted finches around the feeding station, which is located in more sheltered scrub.

Over the three sessions the catch was as follows:

Species
New
Re-trapped
Total
Jack Snipe
1
0
1
Snipe
1
0
1
Wren
2
2
4
Dunnock
0
1
1
Robin
1
4
5
Blackbird
4
0
4
Song Thrush
2
1
3
Redwing
22
0
22
Cetti's Warbler
1
2
3
Blackcap
4
0
4
Chiffchaff
4
0
4
Goldcrest
25
4
29
Long-tailed Tit
7
0
7
Coal Tit
5
0
5
Blue Tit
11
6
17
Great Tit
1
2
3
Nuthatch
0
1
1
Chaffinch
11
0
11
Greenfinch
27
4
31
Goldfinch
12
3
15
Siskin
2
0
2
Lesser Redpoll
2
0
2
Reed Bunting
4
2
6
Total:
149
32
181

The highlights over the visits were a jack snipe, which flew into a triangle of nets that we normally use for pipits and larks, a common snipe, a good total of redwing for the site (which has no berry-bearing bushes to help retain thrush flocks), a steady catch of goldcrest (taking us well over 100 for the year), an influx of coal tits and a couple more lesser redpoll.

The jack snipe is the third caught on the marsh since we started trying to capture snipe species in early winter 2014 (and was a complete fluke).  The ratio of three jack snipe to fourteen common snipe captured to date seems quite high, but as we carry on catching we are likely to obtain greater perspective.  The common snipe was captured on a bund through the marsh: this was less unexpected as a bird had been flushed from a ditch in the area on several occasions while putting nets up.

The redwing were attracted into two sixty foot nets using a tape lure of singing birds recorded in Latvia.  Ageing them provides an annual challenge: at present we have determined slightly over half of the 22 birds captured as adults.

Coal tit is a scarcity on the marsh.  Last year we had a very small late summer influx (three birds) to the feeders, probably of birds dispersing from local breeding populations (compared to 393 blue tits!).  In 2015 the influx has been much later, with birds only captured during the last few days.  It is easy to speculate these are migrants, particularly given the numbers recorded on the Welsh Islands this year (see e.g. the Bardsey Blog on 11 October: http://ow.ly/TGxrn), but it would be nice to get a control to prove it.

Many thanks to Cedwyn Davies, Paul Aubrey, Emma Cole, Wayne Morris, Darren Hicks, Valerie Wilson and Charlie Sargent for company and for running sessions in my absence due to work.

Some pictures are below

Owain Gabb
21/10/2015

Coal tit (Darren Hicks)

Lesser redpoll (Paul Aubrey)

Common snipe (left) and jack snipe (right) (Charlie Sargent)

Jack snipe (Charlie Sargent)

Jack snipe on release (Charlie Sargent)

Redwing (Charlie Sargent)

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Oxwich Marsh 9-10 October 2015: crests, chiffs and creepers

A very light easterly breeze on Friday and a moderate south-easterly wind on Saturday saw us complete sessions on back-to-back days.  Due to limited personnel we only put out a few nets on each occasion.  

The results were very interesting, with 119 birds of 16 species captured (80 of these on the Friday).  The breakdown was as follows:

Species
New Birds
Re-traps
Totals
Green Woodpecker
1
0
1
Meadow Pipit
4
0
4
Wren
4
2
6
Dunnock
0
1
1
Robin
1
2
3
Blackcap
3
0
3
Chiffchaff
16
0
16
Goldcrest
65
0
65
Firecrest
2
0
2
Long-tailed Tit
1
0
1
Blue Tit
5
0
5
Great Tit
1
0
1
Treecreeper
2
0
2
Chaffinch
1
0
1
Lesser Redpoll
1
0
1
Reed Bunting
6
1
7
Total:
113
6
119

Over the two days the highlights were the total of 65 goldcrest (41 on the Friday and 24 on the Saturday), 2 firecrests, 2 treecreepers a lesser redpoll and a green woodpecker.

The goldcrests were aged based on the shape of the tips of the tail feathers (occasionally fault bars were present which made things easier): adults have rounder tips to the tail feathers than young birds. Fifty of the goldcrests were determined as first winter birds, 1 as an adult, and 14 were not specifically aged as their characteristics were intermediate.

The capture of two firecrests was very welcome.  We have now captured the species on the marsh in each of the last three years.  The birds were both males and had wing lengths of 54 mm and 56 mm and weighed 5 g and 5.2 g respectively.  In 2014 we captured three female birds, 2 on 25 October and 1 on 1 November, while the only bird in 2013 was a male on 16 November.  There is therefore plenty of time to equal, and hopefully exceed the tally from 2013.

The treecreepers appeared to be associated with roving flocks of goldcrests and chiffchaff, and were caught alongside them.  A very attractive species in the hand, albeit one that is not possible to specifically age with confidence.  Catching seven individuals on the marsh in 2015 is a far more respectable tally than the singleton in 2014.

The lesser redpoll would probably not be particularly notable to many ringers, but it is a species that we don't often catch as a group.  Prior to 2015, there were only 15 records in the Gower Ringing Group database, but we have now captured the species on successive weekends.  Siskins are now coming into the feeders on the marsh.  We didn't try netting around them this weekend, as the numbers of birds might have proved too much for the team we had (and would have certainly doubled and probably trebled the total).  Hopefully the redpoll may join the siskin flocks as the winter moves on

The green woodpecker, a first winter male, responded to playback of a call.  It had been noted calling nearby (birds often commute over the marsh between parkland in the Penrice Estate and the dunes to the landward side of Oxwich Bay)

A couple of excellent sessions, albeit not with massive numbers of birds.  Given that a number of people are on holiday, the efforts of the remaining ringing team have been much appreciated.

Thanks to Paul Aubrey and Cedwyn Davies for running the session on Friday and to Emma Cole, Wayne Morris and Darren Hicks for their company this morning.

Owain Gabb
10/10/2015

Firecrest (Paul Aubrey)
Lesser redpoll (Paul Aubrey)

Green woodpecker (Paul Aubrey)