Thursday, October 16, 2014


I'll admit, I'm a spoilt little brat. For anyone living in the real world this autumn at Falsterbo would be been pretty amazing by all accounts; but I'm a bit bored...

It's been a funny season: plenty (plenty) of Robins and Goldcrests but with interesting things few and far between. We finished our time in the reedbed with a Bluethroat and good numbers of Penduline Tits (nice to take a look at the variation in moult of the first-year birds).

Two Yellow-browed Warblers were an unexpected bonus in the reeds but for me the relative highlight was a first-year male Reed Bunting with eccentrically moulted primaries.

There's been a spattering of Sibes at the lighthouse, with a Radde's Warbler and two Pallas's Warblers ringed. Other than that, a couple of Ring Ouzels, some Firecrests, and a few Red-breasted Flycatchers have been the only notables. Perhaps part of my apathy stems from the fact that most days I've been sitting in the corner putting rings on Robins, so these interesting birds have largely passed me by or been whisked off to be shown at the front of the lighthouse before we've really had any time to take a proper look at them.

The last few stragglers of each species often end up being the unhealthy individuals. Fault bars form across feathers when there's a period of poor feeding during feather growth. This is often apparent in young birds, since they're dependant on feeding from the parent birds while they're in the nest; and feathers grown simultaneously – as feathers in the nest are – will show a fault bar in the same place. If a fault bar is sufficiently strong, it causes a weak point in the feathers and the feathers can break. That's what had happened to this first-year female Blackcap, where a fault bar across the primaries and secondaries has caused the flight feathers to break half way along their length. The bird was probably fairly healthy before the feathers broke: it had undergone a relatively extensive post-juvenile moult, with all the greater coverts, A1, and two (left wing) or three (right wing) tertials moulted. You can see that the post-juvenile feathers are unaffected by the fault bar, being grown at a different time (post-fledging) to the flight feathers. Amazingly, the bird could still fly, and we haven't recaught it since it's release, suggesting it may already have left the lighthouse garden.

Compared with previous years, we don't seem to have had too many recoveries from elsewhere, although we did trap one Norwegian and one Russian-ringed Goldcrest. The most interesting recovery report we've received the other way around was of a Shoveler (the one and only Shoveler) that we ringed this time last year. It was shot 13 days later near Bordeaux (France). An interesting recovery, if not the nicest way to have the bird "resighted" – and slightly worrying the only Shoveler ringed in the last 30 years at FBO didn't last more than two weeks after leaving Sweden!


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Things are starting to happen

Last weekend the International Bird Observatory Conference (IBOC) was held at Falsterbo; and, with a massive storm and torrential rain over the region, it provided a good distraction from no ringing and a flooded reedbed. Great to meet lots of people from all over the globe and some really exciting talks were given.

Water levels in the reedbed were so high that we could only get in far enough to put up two (of twenty) nets, so we gave up and did some ringing with the lighthouse team instead. Yesterday morning was the best day of the season so far with 355 birds ringed, including two Wood Warblers, a few Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers, and 234 Robins.

It looks like water levels will have dropped enough for us to get into Flommen by tomorrow. Let's hope the good weather and high numbers of birds at the lighthouse bode well for some busy ringing.

Over wildlife has included, in no particular order, a Hedgehog:

 Some Common Toads:

A Convolvulus Hawk-moth:

And thousands of jellyfish:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Probably not flavissima

Yesterday's ringing in the reedbed was dismal due to high winds and an apparent general lack of birds, although we did manage to catch another Wood Sandpiper in the walk-in cage trap. Today was much better with close to 120 birds ringed, mostly "lighthouse garden species" such as Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, and Common Redstart, including this lovely adult male:

We've been catching a few Yellow Wagtails most mornings. We should be catching flava and thunbergi (probably more of the former, from what I've seen) but variation is striking. In the past couple of days, we've caught two birds with strongly saturated yellow supercillia/malar and rather contrastingly dark ear coverts. I've seen a few birds like this claimed as vagrant flavissima before and indeed they're rather eye-catching; but I'm not convinced that's what they are since a) they're roosting in the reedbed in Falsterbo in autumn (should we really expect 2/25 of the birds we catch to be vagrant flavissima?) and b) they don't really look like flavissima... That said, I have no idea what they actually are. Variation in flava/thunbergi seems the obvious if not terribly satisfying answer.

Bird 1 (adult):

Bird 2 (first-year):

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Double fun

I have to admit that after only a couple of days I'm struggling to keep up with blogging about what we've been catching in the mornings; at least, struggling to find the time on top of everything else to write anything meaningful about the interesting things we're seeing (retained median coverts in adult Yellow Wagtails, post-juvenile moult in Whinchats, etc). I fear, until the morning start gets a bit later and the amount of other work I have to do subsides, I may just be posting pretty photos of pretty birds. Fear not, though, since today we caught several pretty birds.

Birds of the day were these Nutcrackers (two of three ringed at the lighthouse, all of the thick-billed nominate race):

With the highlight up at Flommen being two Wood Sandpipers trapped at the same time.

The birding has been good too with a decent passage of Honey Buzzard and Osprey along with other nice Swedish things like White-tailed Eagle, Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike, and a handful of migrating Two-barred Crossbills.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back at Falsterbo

I've been quite busy recently, hence the extended silence, but yesterday I arrived back at Falsterbo, southern Sweden, where I'll spend the autumn. It was a nice day to arrive with about 170 birds ringed in the reedbed and a strong passage of Tree Pipits overhead, of which we caught a few. This first-year was particularly nice having undergone a post-juvenil moult that included one GC: in typical pipit fashion, GC9.

The only other bird of note was this 1cy Water Rail, almost done with its post-juvenile moult and looking rather adult-like already.

A Caspian Tern flew over the car on our way back from the lighthouse but other than that I've not really had any time for birding yet.

There are other things of interest around the station, too, such as these moths that were attracted to the outside lights: a Sallow and an Archer's Dart, respectively.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Congratulations... my little sister Kate who got married yesterday. Wishing her and her husband Anthony all the best!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Falsterbo (Lesser Whitethroats)

I've done a few things over the last few weeks but they all fit into one of two categories: not interesting enough to blog about or vaguely interesting but lacking enough time to follow them up with a thought-out post. Other than the couple of birds I handled at Portland back in March, I haven't done any ringing since I was in Sweden last year. I took advantage of the bank holiday weekend and reasonably cheap flights from Heathrow and decided to head back out to Falsterbo for a couple of days rest and relaxation (if you can call a 03:30 start resting!).

Species of the day at the lighthouse was Lesser Whitethroat, with 11 ringed (along with 11 Willow Warblers, a Blackcap, a Dunnock, a Chaffinch, a Linnet, and three Greenfinches). Ten of the Lesser Whitethroats proved to be second-years plus one adult (3+cy).

The first bird we caught, a second-year, looked at first glance to have undergone an extremely extensive pre-breeding moult with four of the secondaries on the right wing new and the entire tail fresh.

On closer inspections, it seems like the bird had lost and regrown the tail and some of the secondaries on the right wing. Just one secondary had been moulted on the left wing, and the rest of the moult in e.g. the coverts was quite normal.

The second bird was easier to age as a second-year; it had retained three juvenile greater coverts:

This bird had retained most of the tail. Actually in a damn good condition for a second-year Lesser Whitethroat!

It was nice to catch an adult (3+cy) to compare with the second-years. The wing if overall much fresher and darker, while the primary coverts have a subtle grey fringe (vs brown on second-year birds).

This second-year nicely demonstrates the rather narrow juvenile flight feathers, compared to the adults broader primaries and squarer secondaries:

The first bird in the blog post shows a fault bar across the tail, indicating simultaneous growth of the feather tract. As I've said before(!), it's often taken that this means the tail must be juvenile (since juveniles grow the entire feather tract simultaneously when they're in the nest). In the case of the first bird in this post, that's not the case since the tail has been entirely lost and regrown — it's equally as likely that that could happen to an adult as to a young bird, so it gives no worth for ageing. This second-year, however, does show a fault bar in the tail that is a result of the juvenile feathers being grown simultaneously:

More useful, and something that can be used as an ageing criteria, is the 'same' continuous fault bar across the wings. We can safely assume that this must have happened in the nest; an adult bird losing all of it's flight feathers at the same time surly can't stand much chance of survival! Beyond the fault bars, this bird shows the typical suite of plumage features associated with a second-year.

Finally, this second-year bird had its face encrusted with pollen; not from a local food source!

Sunday, March 16, 2014


If yesterday was relaxed, today was flat out on its back. Ringing totals again reached the dizzying heights of two, though today's species variety was half that of yesterday with both of this morning's birds being Common Chiffchaff.

Sightings of note included a Sand Martin whizzing north overhead and... well... pretty much as yesterday, less the Red Kite and any Wheatears. I took some time to have a look at some of the Bill's common residents include, of course, Dunnocks (of which there are plenty). I was particularly pleased with this individual: it's a 2cy male that was singing in the lighthouse garden.

I got really excited when I set the 'scope on it. You can see why, right?

Last night finished with a post-blog post Little Owl calling outside; this evening is finishing with a Red-legged Partridge calling from the obs crop field and a roast dinner.

Back to London tomorrow. Acton can offer phone signal and reliable internet, but it can't offer views like this...

Saturday, March 15, 2014


I've run away from London for the weekend and I'm spending a bit of time at Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset.

We started the morning with a few hours of ringing. We ringed just two birds, though they were interesting and unexpected, respectively. First bird in the net was a 2cy Song Thrush that had undergone a really extensive post-juvenile moult last year.

It had moulted all median coverts, the inner nine greater coverts, the carpal covert and A1 on both wings, plus T1 on the left and T1–2 on the right. Although I'm used to seeing birds in Scandinavia with quite limited post-juvenile moult (usually just a few greater coverts and often not even all of the median coverts moulted), this bird's moult was extensive even by British standards; it's by far the most extensive post-juvenile Song thrush moult I've seen.

Usually, I assume any replaced tail feathers in thrushes to regrowth following accidental loss. However, the new R1 on the left hand side on this bird I suspect might be part of the post-juvenile moult. It certainly fits the pattern for “normal” moult, and with the rest of the moult being so extensive it wouldn't be too surprising if it had also moulted a tail feather.

Jenni & Winkler in Moult and Ageing of European Passerines give a range of greater covert moult 0–9, with mean 3.9 and mode 3 for 1,103 Song Thrushes studied; they note that two tertials were moulted in 0.2% of 764 birds, and that no birds of 755 were found to have renewed any tail feathers. However, they do then reference several sources stating that “In England, 1[c]y with all GC and some R moulted were found exceptionally”.

The second bird was not so interesting — they undergo a complete post-juvenile moult, so what is there to look at?! — but was quite unexpected: a Skylark. Not something that's caught often down here, and even less so in the lighthouse garden. The iris was a rich brown; the two non-adult birds (and indeed the two juveniles) I've handled previously had grey-green irides. That might be age related, but without further study with known age birds there's not really a lot else we can say.

Birding was quiet but still pleasant, with a 2cy Red Kite, two Peregrines, and several Ravens passing over the obs. Joe and I took a wander late in the morning, with highlights being a couple of smart Wheatears and, nice for me after so long not having seeing any, species like Rock Pipit, Stonechat, and Fulmar.

The harbour held three dark-bellied Brent Geese and some Red-breasted Mergansers.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


Did you think I'd forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had. Don't waste a breath mourning Miss Barnes. — Frank Underwood, House of Cards
So, yes, I've been gone for a while: I've been otherwise engaged with things that you really don't want to have to hear about; and yes, I'm slightly addicted to House of Cards. Or was, I should say — I finished season two a week after it was was released. I'm looking to get a wrist band, W.W.F.U.D? He's my new role model in life.

Spring arrived in London today and the world and his dog were out to enjoy the sunshine. Against my better judgement, I jumped on a bus to WWT Barnes. The place was crawling with small children. Thankfully, their little legs can't carry them as far as the wader scrape hide, and I found relative solace in there. I notched up forty species over a couple of hours on side — not bad for London, though there wasn't particularly anything of great note.

I spent most of my time taking a look at some of the dabbling ducks that were on the scrape, particularly the Shoveler. Having caught a bird last autumn and learnt a little bit about ageing the species, I was keen to see how things were now, some four months later. One question I always wonder about is when — or if — young birds moult the tail and/or tertials. It was nice to see that the 2cy birds today had retained all of their juvenile tertials. The difference between the retained juvenile tertials and the adult birds' tertials was noticeable, even at range. No birds came close enough to check the tail, although it was apparent even at distance that the belly feathers — even on some of the 2cy birds that were more advanced in other aspects of body plumage — were either retained or “immature”, being brown and scaly compared to the red-chestnut flanks.

Adult (below) and 2cy Shoveler — this 2cy was one of the more scaly immature-looking birds; on others, the body feathers were more adult-like but the tertials were nonetheless still retained.

I also had a play about with the slo-mo video function on my iPhone. I was pretty pleased with the results!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Resurfacing for Christmas

It's been a while, I know. I've either been lacking the enthusiasm or the subject matter — or both — for a good blog post over the past couple of month. In brief, I headed back from Falsterbo on 11th November, went shopping in Liverpool on my first day back and immediately caught flu, spend a few days in bed, then headed to London, which is where I am until — wind willing — tomorrow morning.

I raised a pair of binoculars yesterday for the first time in four weeks when we had an office outing to Eyebrook Reservoir, Leics. I was scope-less, so birding was a bit restricted — mind you, I only saw one other scope while I was there but plenty of oversized telephoto lenses; is that what 'birding' is these days? — but we had good views of the drake Velvet Scoter and a drake Tufted Duck x (?)Pochard added some study-interest to things.

As is not compulsory for this time of year, I used some of the footage to knock together the annual NatureGuides Christmas card video... complete with fake snow and dodgy music. Merry Christmas.