Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Mixed Bag

Will and I met at Out Rawcliffe for the final ringing effort of September after the 18 hours of rain on Wednesday eventually petered out to leave us with a fine, wind free start. We got the nets up pretty quick then headed back to base camp for a coffee in the half-light, in time to see an early riser Marsh Harrier drift over the distant stubble fields, harried as ever by Carrion Crows. Not a bad start to the day, but the harrier continued south from its roost and we didn’t see it at all later.

Carrion Crow and Marsh Harrier

Initially our catching was slow, but improved as the sun came out. We caught 55 birds of 12 species, a good selection of 54 new birds, mainly finches but with the one recapture a Dunnock.

New birds: 26 Chaffinch, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Greenfinch,1 Lesser Redpoll, 5 Reed Bunting, 5 Meadow Pipit, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 1 Dunnock, 1 Wren, 6 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Coal Tit and 1 Willow Warbler. It’s getting fairly late now for Willow Warblers but if there’s going to be one or two “phylloscs” about they are often with a gang of “lottis”.

Overhead movement of both Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit was less pronounced this morning, with probably less than 100 pipits and possibly 200 Chaffinch, but both species were dropping in from a good height again, just as on recent clear mornings. Other obvious “vis” came in the shape of at least 10 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 alba wagtail and 8 Snipe, but our net rounds were busy, which restricted the pure birding intervals.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush - juvenile tail

Song Thrush - juvenile wing


Willow Warbler

Other birds seen this morning: 7 Reed Bunting were extra to the ones caught, 5 Swallow, 2 Grey Partridge, 55 Skylark, 3 Jay, 4 Tree Sparrow, 18 Goldfinch, 8 Linnet, 1 Kestrel, 3 Buzzard, 1 Peregrine and 2 Raven.

On my way off the farm I stopped to grab a photo of one of the Buzzards enjoying the warming air.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shortened Session

After a day off doing essential things such as work and family on Monday, Will and I made yet another trip to Out Rawcliffe this morning hoping to top up the ringing figures again. Although the weather was fairly bright there was a fair amount of cloud with an easterly breeze. Perhaps crucially there looked to be low cloud, drizzle and poor visibility on the lower Pennines not far away from us just beyond Garstang, as confirmed when I checked the “vis mig” Yahoo forum later.

We altered our net rides somewhat for the easterly breeze and caught birds in less numbers than we have grown accustomed to in recent days and weeks, but nevertheless we had an interesting morning. We packed up earlier than normal about 10am due to the number of birds drying up when the wind started to bluster.

We caught 28 birds, comprised of 26 new and 2 Long-tailed Tit recaptures. The new birds were 4 Meadow Pipit, 1 Blue Tit, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldfinch and 17 Chaffinch. That takes our total of Chaffinch caught at this site in September to 237 birds, 146 females and 80 males, or expressed as a percentage, 66.2% females and 33.8% males.


Long-tailed Tit

The movement of Meadow Pipits was very thin this morning, reflected in our meagre catch of 4 birds and a count of less than 50 birds on the move, mainly going south east. However the four caught today put the September catch here to 72 individuals.


Today’s Chiffchaff was also number 10 for the month, not on a par with recent counts for Spurn but a figure that pleases us because we don’t catch too many. In the last few weeks we have grown accustomed to hearing an unfamiliar call from Chiffchaffs, a richer, fruitier, almost finch like alarm call. They sound similar to this one recorded in Eastern Sweden.

A notable species on the move this morning was Pied/White Wagtail with at least 20 fly overs this morning, all from north to south, but only a couple of the related Grey Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail

Other birds “over” during our 3 hour stint included 1 Song Thrush, 4 Snipe, 2 Siskin, 120 Chaffinch, 40 Swallow, 1 Corn Bunting, 15 Linnet and 25 Goldfinch. More local birds consisted of 2 Tawny Owl, 2 Jay, 1 Kestrel, 2 Buzzard and a single Corn Bunting.

It looks like definite rain tomorrow, time to put the pliers away for a day or two and maybe get in a spot of single minded birding when the deluge stops.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good Days

The opportunities and incentive for getting out ringing are exceptionally good at the moment with the spell of dry weather made better by the thought of intercepting very migratory species like pipits and finches. We’ve had pretty good catches in recent days and weeks, species and numbers, but that doesn’t stop us doing it all over again, even more of the action, like Will and I did this morning at Out Rawcliffe.

It was a very similar morning to Saturday, in fact almost identical, with overnight frost and a clear, fairly calm morning with just a hint of an early breeze. Our catch was less than yesterday, but we packed up a little earlier when the drafts of wind turned more blustery towards 11am.

However we did capture another 56 new birds, with no retraps from yesterday, or from the previous weeks, months or years, as in: 39 Chaffinch, 12 Meadow Pipit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 3 Reed Bunting. So our glut of Chaffinch from further north continues, with the sexes split 23 to 16 and once more in favour of females. Again today we thought the numbers caught were just a small proportion of birds involved in active migration, those moving unseen through the large plantation or others flying overhead, audible but often unseen by virtue of their height in the bright sky. We estimated 260 Chaffinch today, mostly north to south.

The passage of Meadow Pipits was less marked today, and after an initial flurry of 40 or so birds arriving from the south east soon after dawn when we caught seven birds together, their passage thinned, and we picked up only a further five birds throughout the rest of the morning. In all we totalled about 200 Meadow Pipits, mainly heading south west. The first two pictures show an adult Meadow Pipit from today, with what is an example of adult autumn plumage.

Meadow Pipit - Adult

Adult Meadow Pipit

Lesser Redpoll

Reed Bunting

Other birds seen this morning: 1 Tawny Owl, 2+ Grey Partridge, 2 Grey Wagtail, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Siskin, 1 Nuthatch, 2 Kestrel, 2 Jay, 40 Skylark, 3 Buzzard, 6 Reed Bunting, 1500+ Pink-footed Goose and less than 10 Swallows.

Pink-footed Goose

It looks like most of the Swallows have gone for this year so I changed the header photo to something more akin to the autumn and this year’s in particular, with a species that may just appear in larger numbers soon.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Busy, Busy

Will and I both watched the BBC “Rough Guide to What The Weather May Hold” and their forecast of 15-17mph northerlies. We looked at the position of the isobars on the chart and decided we were clearly in with a chance of some more ringing this morning on Rawcliffe Moss. As it turned out it was a completely clear morning with zero wind and nil cloud but the overnight lack of cloud led to the first ground frost of the autumn as we erected nets with fingers grasping frosty ropes and hands sliding through iced up bamboo poles.

Another busy morning saw us catch 73 birds, 72 new and 1 recapture of a Great Tit. The Chaffinch totals were similarly interesting to those of recent weeks with 38 individuals, 1 adult - a male, plus 11 juvenile males and 26 juvenile females. Once again the visible migration here was not highly conspicuous as many bird arrived in the north of plantation before finding our nets in the south section, while many more passed extremely high overhead with only their contact calls giving away their movements. Our nearest feasible estimate was approximately 250/300 birds. There has been a heavy visible migration on the moss in recent weeks that has not necessarily been reflected in coastal migration but of course Rawcliffe Moss is closer to the Pennines migration route which probably explains the phenomenon.

I saw a post on a vis mig website recently which claimed that of over 200 migrating Chaffinch, “only male Chaffinches were seen”, which of course is total nonsense unless the birds were at head height and each one examined through binoculars. At this time of year some young male Chaffinches are very dull and lack the colouration of an adult male, so even in the hand deserve a more than cursory glance to distinguish them from females, never mind separating overhead flyers into males and females! Our findings from recent weeks show that migrating Chaffinch at the moment consist of roughly 80% females, and there is absolutely no basis to suggest that it might be completely different elsewhere on the same day.

Other birds caught this morning: 21 Meadow Pipits, 4 Chiffchaff, 5 Dunnock, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Wren and 1 Skylark.

Lesser Redpoll

The passage of Meadow Pipits was more marked today, with an estimated 350 birds arriving from the north or North West with most of them leaving quite quickly in a south easterly direction. As usual we lost a few pipits through some doing their Houdini act of climbing up and out of the pocket by using their immensely long rear claw as a lever; if only they wouldn’t rub it in by calling in triumph as they fly off. Also an escapee from the nets, a male Sparrowhawk that was barely caught so flew off before Will could reach it. It was possibly the same bird we saw later on when 2 Sparrowhawks appeared together before circling briefly over the plantation.

Meadow Pipit -Hind Claw

Another interesting feature of this morning was the appearance of 5 new Dunnocks plus a further small influx of fruity toned Chiffchaffs, 4 of which we caught. There was also a marked movement of other finches, at least 12 Siskin, 8 Lesser Redpoll and even a Greenfinch or two. The movement of Skylarks was very marked with more than 90 seen arriving from the east and heading west during the course of the morning, of which we caught a single bird with a couple more near misses. Catching a Skylark is such a rare occasion that “Svensonn” comes out, on this occasion to remind us that there is not a lot to be done with Skylarks. Both adults and juveniles have a complete moult and therefore will look much the same at this time of year, however our bird appeared to have some retained juvenile tertial feathers and we provisionally aged it as juvenile.


”Svensson” - Ageing and Sexing Skylark


Other birding this morning: 2 Tawny Owl, 1 Jay, 14 Snipe, 2 Mistle Thrush, 5 Reed Bunting, 20+ Swallow – now almost absent, and 450 Pink-footed Goose.

Having seen our less than pristine sort-of-white chairs on Another Bird Blog recently a regular reader and a friend of Will and Sue kindly donated two even more comfortable chairs for our enjoyment. But once again we were simply too busy to take full advantage so the chairs remained unoccupied most of the morning. So thank you kind reader but if the autumn migration continues to be so intense we may not sit down for a month or two.

New Chairs In The Frost

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's Those Finches Again

I looked at some of the recent migration counts of Chaffinch and Brambling from Falsterbo Bird Observatory, Sweden, where to simplify the vast counts of two species that often travel together, the totals are lumped together -19th September 20,000 Chaffinch/Brambling, 20th September 24,000, 21st September 25,000, a count of 52,000 on 22nd September, and a huge 85,000 today. In recent days local observers and vis mig enthusiasts closer to home in both the Pennines and the Lancaster area have also picked up on the fact that Chaffinches are moving both on an earlier date but also in large numbers for the time of year, something first noted on Another Bird Blog on September 8th.

With for instance over 11 million pairs of Chaffinch in Sweden, and up to 20 million pairs in Finland we can be pretty sure that some of the Chaffinch we have caught in recent weeks are part of the huge movement of Chaffinches through Falsterbo. But it is only in the deeper months of the year, particularly during cold weather on the continent, that we tend to catch the longer winged birds of central and Eastern Europe that are more certainly separable from the current normal sized birds. In fact this autumn we have yet to catch a Chaffinch with a wing length bigger than 90mm and it is a little early for us to catch a Brambling, a species which gradually replaces Chaffinch in the northern parts of their combined range.


Will and I hoped to explore this phenomenon a little more today so we arrived at Rawcliffe Moss in time to alter our net configuration with the intention of catching even more migrating Chaffinch. It’s important to say that our ringing site isn’t a baited feeding site, just a 7 or 8 year old plantation set alongside a track across the moss. We took a chance on the marginal weather forecast, and it wasn’t the best morning for diurnal migration with too much heavy cloud, spits of rain and a threat of heavy showers, but we set to with 4 x 18metre nets. Unfortunately we were rained off at 0930 by a heavy shower and black clouds but not before we managed to catch 29 new birds and once again, no retraps.

Our total, 18 Chaffinch, 6 males and 12 females, 4 Meadow Pipit, 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Wren and 4 Coal Tit. That is our first significant catch of Coal Tits this autumn and it will be interesting to see the numbers we catch in the next month or two of this irruptive species.


Chaffinch – Adult female

Chaffinch – Adult Tail

Coal Tit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

The birding was fairly slow this morning, again a result of the less than ideal conditions. Two Tawny Owls calling from the nearby woods vied with calling Grey Partridges to be first in our notebooks, while both female and a male Sparrowhawks hunted through the plantation but failed to find our nets.

Visible migration of our target species Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit was difficult to estimate with birds seemingly adapting to the rapidly shifting cloud and rain formations as they arrived and left to all directions, but we counted approximately 150 Chaffinch and 80 Meadow Pipits. Other “vis mig” came in the form of 275 Swallow, 25 House Martin, 3 Grey Wagtail, 4 alba wagtail, 4 Siskin, 1 Redpoll, 20 Snipe, 60 Golden Plover and 40 Skylark, but 60 Goldfinch, 15 Linnet and 3 Jays were local birds of the immediate area.

Grey Wagtail


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Corker

My prediction of yesterday that today’s planned ringing might see a recurrence of Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits turned out to be fairly accurate. But I didn’t quite envisage what a true corker of a morning it would turn into with both an excellent, busy ringing session but also a good birding morning packed with variety and interest.

Our first birds of the morning turned out to be owls, with Will hearing the resident Tawny Owl at first light and myself seeing a Little Owl fly from a roadside fence as I approached the Out Rawcliffe farm.

We set our usual quota of nets with the first round timed at 0715 and the last midday. That’s an awful lot of walking when each tour of the nets probably equates to about a half mile trek through rough, long grass. And to think I postponed a gentle swim this morning in favour of a ringing session!

We caught 84 birds, 83 new and 1 recapture as follows; 60 Chaffinch, 14 Meadow Pipit, 2 Goldfinch - both juveniles, 2 Robin, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Dunnock, 1 Jay, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Blue Tit. The recapture was a Dunnock. The Jay, although a bonny bird, turned out to be an argumentative sort, worth donning a set of gloves to avoid a painful nip or two.

Reed Bunting

Goldfinch - Juvenile



We pushed our total of Chaffinch ringed here in the last 30 day period to 151 individuals, without a single recapture. Clearly, large numbers of Chaffinch have passed this way recently with the autumn migration starting a little early but yet to peak in mid to late October. Their migration became particularly obvious this morning when we estimated the visible passage as about 90 to 100 birds per hour = approximately 600 birds, with the proportion of those birds caught by us at about 10% of all those visibly heading south in small groups. Of the 60 birds caught 51 were juvenile birds of the year, 13 males and 38 females with the 9 remaining adults split 6/3 in favour of males.

Interestingly the Latin or scientific name for Chaffinch is Fringilla coelebs, which means “bachelor finch”. It received this name about the year 1750 from Linnaeus, the Swedish zoologist who saw that autumn flocks of Chaffinches were often composed of either males or females but that as the winter progressed the small numbers of Chaffinches that remained during the Swedish winter were male birds.

Adult Male Chaffinch

After ringing many thousands of Chaffinch over several years we find that ageing them is reasonably easy by a combination of general features, tail shape and the colour of tertial feathers. A glance at the tertial feathers will show whether they are markedly edged bright chestnut in an adult or display more diffuse and paler, even straw or yellowish edges in a younger bird. Females are less obvious than the male shown below, with a duller chestnut colour but the principle still applies. In the picture below the male Chaffinch has both types of tertials and in the second picture below, the tail of a young bird of this year shows how juvenile feathers can wear by September.

Tertial Feathers - Chaffinch

Tail Feathers, September - Juvenile Chaffinch

Other migration and bird movements were very noticeable this morning with approximately 150 Meadow Pipit heading into the warm southerly wind, 3 Grey Wagtail, 10 “alba” wagtails, 1 Siskin, 5 Corn Bunting, 60+ Goldfinch, 15 Linnet and 45 Skylark. Waders noted were 26 Snipe and 3 Curlew with a single Grey Heron. By 1130 am the continuous movement of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins from dawn had built to such an extent that approximately 2000 hirundines, mainly Swallows fed low over the immediate fields and many were still in the area when we left at 1230.

Raptors put in appearances in the form of 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and 1 large Peregrine almost overhead that later came back over us again before diving in pursuit of something behind the birch wood, and whilst I had the wrong lens on for a decent picture, we got some corking views of it.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Bits ’N Pieces

I just sneaked an hour or two this morning for a quick visit to Pilling. In the short time available I had a reasonable selection of birds with some evidence of passerine migration, and at long last a decent coastal movement of Meadow Pipits. I started with 2 Kestrels perched together on a roadside telegraph pole near Fluke Hall, where I saw them recently doing just the same thing, so I think they are siblings of a late brood as they sit within inches of each other. Here at the gateway to the wildfowler’s fields I found a small group of 8 Skylarks and 2 Meadow Pipits. Swallows are disappearing fast now but there were a dozen or so here, but up at Lane Ends I noticed a genuine movement of more than 40 Swallows heading determinedly west into the warm but stiff breeze. I checked the pools for phalaropes but all I found was a pair of Tufted Duck and a Little Grebe.

Tufted Duck

I walked from Lane Ends towards Pilling Water where more Meadow Pipits were obvious with a couple of dozen both behind the sea wall and along the sandy shore. In addition others were arriving from a northerly direction and Heysham as yet others followed the wall from the Cockerham route. In all I counted about 120 individuals, with 8 or 9 Skylarks and a couple of “albas”. In addition I reckoned there were 7 Wheatears, one or two hanging about in the obvious spots, and all I had to do was sit down and wait for one to stand on a favoured stone for a while; but generally all the small birds were very mobile this morning with a definite autumn buzz about proceedings. There were a good number of Pink-footed Geese flighting on and off the marsh, and whilst I didn’t have the numbers of the weekend I still counted 600 birds.

Pink-footed Goose


Meadow Pipit

Out on the marsh a Peregrine beat up the flock 400 Teal several times over, but while I was there failed to catch one and didn’t transfer its attention to trying to seize something different. They do say Teal is one of the better wildfowl to eat and whilst it’s not on my eating list, maybe the Peregrine knows a thing or two about the best species of duck to eat. As I crossed the stile I disturbed 2 Spotted Redshank from the pool that I didn’t locate on my initial but brief scan of the water, whereupon they flew along the outflow and joined up with 30 or so common Redshank.

6 Little Egrets and 2 Snipe completed the picture, but my little outing ended too soon. The wind has dropped so it looks like a ringing session is on for tomorrow; with luck there will be more pipits and a continuation of the Chaffinch theme.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

It’s A Hard Life

Will and I met at Our Rawcliffe for our first ringing session since September 8th. The intervening period had seen poor weather synopses with periods of rain and wind, the twin enemies that frustrated our eagerness to continue the good results we obtained through the summer and early autumn. It was a hesitant start at 0630 under threatening rain clouds, but both the weather and our mood improved enough to say that by 1100 when we packed up, we had enjoyed a brilliant morning full of birds.

In total we caught 51 birds of 8 species, 48 new birds, 2 recaptures and 1 bird previously ringed elsewhere, a “control” in ringer’s terminology.

New birds: 21 Chaffinch, 18 Meadow Pipit, 4 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Robin, 1 Lesser Whitethroat and 1 Dunnock. We recaptured a Chiffchaff and a Dunnock from previous visits, and the control bird was a Long-tailed Tit; Ring number 6O9704 anyone?

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Lesser Whitethroat



Capturing a number of Meadow Pipits for the first time since last autumn allowed us to “get our eye in” again with separating adult and juvenile autumn Meadow Pipits. In general adults have all tertials, greater coverts and median coverts of the same age with the pattern of the greater and median coverts having a rather evenly broad olive-toned buff tip with only a slight “tooth” and well defined and indented buff margin to the greater coverts. In contrast, first year birds have a pronounced “tooth” on the median coverts and rather pale buff tips to these, and the outer webs of the greater coverts are edged paler and more whitish. So in general the wing of an adult appears darker and more evenly olive toned whereas a juvenile wing looks more variable by virtue of most of its buff and pale tipped coverts or the contrast between its juvenile coverts and any newer, replaced “adult” type coverts. What we also have to bear in mind when ageing Meadow Pipits is that early broods may have been out of the nest from mid or late May, four months ago, whereas birds from later in the season may have plumage characteristics dating from several weeks ago only.

Meadow Pipit - Adult

Meadow Pipit - Juvenile

After a series of mornings in August and early September whereby we reported little or no visible migration, in contrast the difference today was quite striking, perhaps helped by the very light south easterly wind that blew from 0630 until about 10am when it swung round to the predicted north westerly direction. There were noticeable, mainly south or south westerly movements of 200+ Meadow Pipit, 250 Swallow, 20 House Martin and 50+ Skylarks which arrived from a true north or even north easterly direction

Other birds seen this morning included 190 Pink-footed Goose over in various directions, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, several Goldfinch, 1 Jay and 1 Grey Wagtail. As on the last few occasions, the movement of Chaffinch was not especially marked or obvious, but as we caught 21 we can only assume this was small percentage of those moving through the site for the four hours we remained there.

We were so busy with ringing, listening and watching that we barely had time to sit down, have a coffee or eat our second breakfasts whilst our luxurious chairs remained mostly redundant this morning. It’s a hard life being a birder.


Related Posts with Thumbnails