Friday, August 31, 2012

Flommen variety

It was raining as we were setting up the nets this morning — each drop of rain on the water in Flommen triggered a flash of green light from the bioluminescent plankton, which was still strong today and made the main channel twinkle in the dark. There were also a lot of frogs in the channel today and each time one swam away it left a luminous green trail behind it.

The rain soon stopped and the morning's ringing turned out to be pleasant and varied. Cutest of the lot was this 2+cy Grasshopper Warbler.

Compared to last Thursday's 1cy bird, this adult bird shows heavy wear to the flight feathers. They are, after all, a good 6 or so months old. Adults have a variable post-breeding moult. This bird had moulted the lesser and median coverts, the inner 9 greater coverts, T2 and T3, and A1 and A2. The secondaries, primaries, GC1, primary coverts, T1 and A3 are all old.

It's always a joy to have a Grasshopper Warbler in the hand and to enjoy the finer details that are often so hard to get a good view of in the field.

Continuing the theme of partial post-breeding moults — though this time in a species for which a complete post-breeding moult is the norm — this 3+cy Common Whitethroatwa s near to completing its moult (outer primaries and S6 in final stages of growth) but had left S3–5 unmoulted on both wings. According to Sylvia Warblers, the post-breeding moult is “Usually complete, but not uncommonly interrupted, leaving a variable number of secondaries and, less frequently, primaries unmoulted.”

Title for shittiest bird of the morning went to this 1cy male Mallard, which managed to clear itself out all over Christian, myself, and the ringing hut.

Adding further variety was this 1cy White Wagtail. It's moulted all of the median coverts and two greater coverts, GC8 and 9, but — as is often typical for wagtails — has not moulted GC10.

The moult limit is still visible on the closed wing:

Yesterday morning at Flommen was fairly quiet with a Marsh Warbler being the best of 22 birds. We did the resting bird count in the afternoon at the north end of the peninsula where highlights were 22 Wood Sandpipers, a Merlin, a Garganey, and a Carrion Crow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Crayfish and other cool things

It was kräftskiva time last night — crayfish party! It is pretty much what it says it is; an excuse to eat lots of crayfish and drink some snaps.

It had been a nice day with 11 species ringed in at Flommen (totals online — click Ringing). The most unusual was a Water Rail, trapped in one of our walk-in traps.

Almost as unusual in terms of numbers ringed over the year was this Wheatear:

A really smart 2+cy male. The classic way to age these birds in the hand is using the colour of the inside of the upper mandible: black in adults, pale in young birds — but that is pretty useless in the field. This bird shows a single generation of feathers (1cy birds would show two generations of wing coverts) with dark black flight feathers and broad rounded tail feathers. It's also a damn good-looking bird, virtually lacking any pale fringing to the head feathers. It's unlikely that a 1cy would ever be so well marked.

We also caught a couple of Whinchats.

Which reminds me, I should say something about ageing and sexing them at this time of year. As with Wheatear, the classic ringer's method for ageing this species is using the inside of the upper mandible. All the birds we have caught so far have been 1cy birds with pale upper mandibles.

It's a good starting point but again is completely useless for in the field. So what else can we use?

This bird showed a nice moult in the median coverts. OK, perhaps this is stretching the definition of "useful in the field" but it might be possible with good views...!

One of last Friday's birds, the male, showed two generations of greater covert. GC5 on the left wing had been replaced, presumably following accidental loss. The feather pattern is strikingly different from that of the surrounding juvenile greater coverts; the fringe along the outer web is much thinner, tapering to nothing about halfway up the feather.

Thus on the closed wing the black at the base of the feather meets uninterrupted with the black at the base of the next feather. So, on adult males in autumn at least, there should be a black panel across the greater coverts; on 1cy birds the broad fringes to the greater coverts mean that the black is always interupted; I'm not sure about adult females.

1cy male Whinchat — the arrowed central greater covert gives an idea as to what an adult male would look like in the field at this time of year; note the more expensive area of black compared to the same area on the surrounding juvenile greater coverts.

The tail also offers a clue to ageing, being rather pointed and worn in 1cy birds. It is also the most obvious reliable way of sexing the species. In males, the tail is black and white with a sharp border between the two.

On females, the tail is brown-black and white(ish) with a rather diffuse border between the two.

Continuing the theme of birds with moult limits in their median coverts, this Yellow Wagtail has moulted about half of its median coverts.

Compare this bird to Sunday's bird, which had moulted all of its median coverts. It's very interesting to note that the wagtail has moulted the outer median coverts and left the inners unmoulted, while the Whinchat above has moulted the inner median coverts and left the outers unmoulted.

Today was considerably slower with just five species ringed. The morning started on a high when a Badger ran across the road in front of us. Then, at Flommen, setting up the nets was amazing. There's occasionally some bioluminescent plankton(?) in the reed bed — I guess it comes in with the salt water that flows down the channel when water levels are high in the Baltic. This morning it was really strong; so much so that I took a few minutes out from putting up the nets to splash about it in. I tried to film it but I ended up with three minutes of nothing. Anyway, it was great fun!

As if bioluminescent plankton didn't make Flommen a cool enough place to ring, you should see the staff...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bank holiday lie-in

Unlike the UK, it's not actually a bank holiday here; however, strong winds put a stop to any thoughts of ringing so we made the most of things and stayed in bed for a few extra hours. The morning was slow going with no birds around at all; then something suddenly changed and a large flock of several hundred Honey Buzzards pass south over the observatory along with an Osprey, a Peregrine, a couple of Marsh Harriers and good numbers of Sparrowhawks.

Christian and I headed to the shops via the harbour road. It was quieter than the other day, though there were now five Garganey.

A large flock of Yellow Wagtails were feeding between the cattle; most weren't possible to race on plumage, though some extremes clearly belonged to one race or another, including at least two thunbergi (the reality is that most of them were probably thunbergi), one flava, and one apparent thunbergi–flava intergrade. A rather yellow-headed bird was probably just a yellowish example of one of the above.
1cy thunberi

The Honey Buzzard passage continued, and we also managed to scope a distant adult White-tailed Eagle.

Finally, I keep forgetting to post this. It's a spider that we saw while we were ringing waders at Nabben. It's about an inch across and is clearly built to live in sand. I was going to put my finger there for a sense of scale but it looked horribly like the sort of spider that might be able to bite me... Anyone got any ideas?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Not so exciting

It was back to business as usual today — 54 birds of five species ringed (totals online — click Ringing). We very nearly caught a Wryneck; I arrived at the nets just in time to see it climbing out and flying away.

This Yellow Wagtail was one of two 1cy birds ringed (presumably both thunbergi). It's moulted all of its median coverts on both wings and no greater coverts on the right wing. On the left wing, GC6 has been regrown (presumably following accidental loss) giving a nice opportunity to compare juvenile and adult-type greater coverts.

Not surprisingly, the bunting remained the highlight of the day yesterday, though the afternoon proved to be pleasant. Christian and I carried out the resting bird counts; a good variety of waders were seen (Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank etc) and three Garganey were on the harbour road pools.

Birding today was not so great. In fact, with heavy rain this afternoon, we spent most of the day following ringing lazing around the observatory.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


It's only 11:15 but I'm confidently going to say that there's only one bird worth talking about today: Yellow-breasted Bunting (Gyllensparv).

It was my turn to sleep in this morning — and, after getting back in the wee small ours of the morning from wader ringing, I was glad of the chance to lie-in until half-four. I arrived at Flommen just as Christian got back from his net round, hollering and whooping as he did. He handed me the bag; he was quite sure he knew what it was and, after seeing the bird, so was I. The median crown stripe wasn't as strong as I'd expected and the wing-bars were rather buff, but apart from that everything else added up to a perfect 1cy Yellow-breasted Bunting. We called Björn and asked him to come and confirm our extremely strong suspicions, which he duly did.

 The bird was the first record of this species for Falsterbo and only the 34th record for Sweden; it's been 11 years since the last record

The bird had a few small ticks on its head but seemed in good health. In other ringing news, a Red-backed Shrike was ringed and a Reed Warbler carrying a German ring was caught.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Whinchats and waders

Day two ringing at Flommen and the drop in the wind helped to raise the total number of birds caught to just over 70 (totals online — click Ringing). The bulk of the total was Reed Warblers but we did catch a few Marsh Warblers (juvenile Marsh Warbler preliminary results: some are really obvious, others are definitely not), a Common Redstart, two Whinchat, three Tree Pipit, and an Icterine Warbler that had originally been ringed in the lighthouse garden.

The redstart was a 1cy male. You can see on the closed wing a slither of brighter blue-grey just as the greater coverts disappear under the scapulars. A closer view of this area on the spread wings reveals two moulted adult-type inner greater coverts. The bird will keep this moult limit in the greater coverts right through until it's first complete moult next autumn.

Both Whinchats were also 1cy birds, one male and one female. Here's the male:

And here's the female:

Whinchat is not a species I have handled much, at least not in autumn (sexing in spring is, of course, a lot more straightforward), so I'm not sure if the differences in e.g. the supercilium, the breast, the crown and the mantle (the latter not too apparent in these photos) are consistently this different between the sexes. Hopefully I'll get to handle a few more this autumn, so we'll see. I'll say something more about proven ways of sexing (and ageing) the species in a day or two.

By far the highlight of the morning, though, was a 2cy male Pallid Harrier that flew over our heads as we were doing a net round.

In the evening, I joined Måns at Nabben for some night-time wader ringing. We caught a nice selection, 19 individuals of 8 species: Common Shelduck (1), Common Teal (1), Knot (4), Sanderling (3), Dunlin (5), Bar-tailed Godwit (1), Redshank (3), and Common Tern (1).