...and Whooper Swans at Martin Mere WWT today.
There weren't that many swans around, actually, nor too many Pink-footed Geese. Most of my time was spend having a look at some of the birds that were in front of the Swan Link hide: Pintail, Wigeon, Ruff etc. This first-year Ruff, aged by the mix of moulted adult-type (square and grey) and juvenile feathers (dark centred with buff/orangey fringes), gave very close views. I was quite surprised at how limited the post-juvenile moult was.
It's always entertaining to have a wander around the captive collection. This friendly White-headed Duck was pick of today's favourites.
I took a wander around the Birdwatching Fair that was taking place in the visitor centre. I arrived at the ringing demo just in time to see a Long-tailed Tit. Being away from the UK for so long, it's always striking how different some British birds are compared to birds in Scandinavia. This
bird was a nice contrast to the
birds I've been handling over the past month – not just for the obvious reasons but also the fact it was tiny in comparison to nominate birds!
With many thanks to the ringers whose demo I gatecrashed...
And, since Christmas is coming, here's a collection of Snow or almost-Snow Ducks. The last one is my favourite.
While we were at the Hoopoe, we received a text message from the pelagic organisers to say the trip had been cancelled due to high waves. We had a room booked in Varberg – in the old prison – so we decided to carry on up there and make the most of things. Perhaps there would be some auks or divers in the harbour, or some seabirds passing by.
We wandered along to Getterön nature reserve, were we enjoyed a sit down in the Naturum from where we could see White-tailed Eagles, Whooper Swans, and a couple of Smew.
News broke of a Black Duck near Torekov in northern Skåne, so we headed south with a few hours of light left. When we arrived, we found a reasonably large crowd on the beach.
Unable to locate the duck (or any duck) based on where they were looking and where people were pointing, we asked what was happening. They were watching a Water Pipit. The "crowd" watching the Black Duck was 50 m further on...
All four of them. Mind you, it wasn't surprisingly that no one cared too much about the duck. It was distant, viewed into the sun, and thoroughly unsatisfying. Here's a heavily cropped photo taken through the scope at 60x zoom.
It's been a record autumn for most of small, “eat-insets-from-in-crevices”, short-distance migrant species. We've recorded the highest autumn totals (in 34 years of standardised ringing), for the following species:
Goldcrest 11,230 (previous record: 10,403 in 2000, followed by 6,214 in 2008)
Robin 4,138 (previous record: 4,052 in 2000)
Chiffchaff 972 (previous highest: 556 in 2010)
Long-tailed Tit 345 (previous record: 330 in 2012)
Eurasian Treecreeper 201 (previous record: 151 in 2005)
Firecrest 18 (previous record: 8 in 2000)
And we managed the second highest autumn total for Wren (1,621), second only to 1,739 in 2000.
There are only a few days left of the seasons so, although the totals are all likely to increase slightly, we're probably not going to add anything significantly more to any of the totals now. Besides which, I'm going to be off the peninsula for most of the weekend. Hope I don't get a nose bleed.
Sometimes, though, they come up trumps. The past two bird counts have given us Gyr Falcon, Red-breasted Goose, White-tailed Eagles, Bewick's Swans, Rough-legged Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, a flock of Scaup, a Black Redstart, and some Mute Swans and Wigeon.
Most exciting find, from our point of view at least, was when we stopped the car at a random field to [half] jokingly “find a Daurian Jackdaw”. We didn't, but we did find this striking soemmerringii-type Jackdaw. I haven't got much more to say about that bird that Marcel hasn't already said over on his blog.
It's been windy for the last two days, so no ringing; and it looks like it will rain tomorrow. However, ringing at the lighthouse garden has been varied and productive over the past week or two. We've only ringed one Great Grey Shrike so far this year, a first-winter bird.
Finally, as much for aesthetics as for education, the primary coverts of a first-year Jay. It's the only Jay I've handled this year but it didn't hesitate in adding its calling mark to my hand, along with various scabs and wounds from a Magpie, the shrike, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and a particularly nasty Flommen reed stem.
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!
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.
Over wildlife has included, in no particular order, a Hedgehog:
Some Common Toads:
A Convolvulus Hawk-moth:
And thousands of jellyfish:
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):
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 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.
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
I also had a play about with the slo-mo video function on my iPhone. I was pretty pleased with the results!