Friday, March 18, 2016

More Finch Tales

We are enjoying a good few days of settled weather. Despite the northerly origins of the winds which produce cold nights and cool days, many birds are making progress in their spring migration. This is especially noticeable at our Oakenclough ringing site on the western edge of the Pennine Hills where Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and Goldfinches have dominated recent visits, either in mist nets or overhead on visible migration. In searching local websites and blogs this migration seems to be much less evident in coastal areas or even missing completely. It’s tempting to say that many birders turn out later in the day than the average ringer? Or maybe it’s just that the birds use inland migration routes in the early spring? 

I’m not complaining about seeing the same species but instead enjoy recent days as an opportunity to record our observations and collect yet more data about migration. So Friday began with a scrape of the windscreen ice, a thirty minute drive into the hills and a 0630 meet with Andy for another ringing session. 

A cold easterly breeze reduced today’s catch somewhat but we still finished up with 45 birds of which 43 were of the finch family. It was a rather striking result in producing 22 Goldfinch, 12 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Siskin, 3 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit and 1 Blue Tit

One of today’s Lesser Redpolls proved to be a “control”. It carried a BTO ring but of a letter and number sequence we did not recognise (D700 etc) so had been ringed elsewhere in the UK by another ringer. We will find out the details of this bird in due course once the capture from today is computerised and sent to the BTO. 

Lesser Redpoll

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 relates a success story for the Lesser Redpoll. Despite a 16% decrease in occupied squares in England since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas, there was a corresponding  26% increase in Scotland and a 163% increase in Ireland. We can be fairly certain all the Lesser Redpolls we are seeing at the moment are on their way north and west to Scotland and Ireland. 

On a point of interest to readers outside of the UK, the Lesser Redpoll was elevated to full species status by British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) in 2001 whereas in Ireland and elsewhere it continues to be treated as a race of Common Redpoll. The Lesser Redpoll is widespread throughout the UK whereas the Common Redpoll is a scarce visitor to Britain from northern Europe, Greenland and Iceland. Prior to 2001 birders and ringers who encountered these paler, larger and uncommon visitors referred to them simply as “Northern Redpolls”. Only after 2001 could we put a “tick” in the box next to Common Redpoll. 

 Lesser Redpoll

The Siskins we caught today are on their way to more northerly parts of the UK, potentially to Norway, just over the North Sea from Scotland. 


The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 tells us that since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas the Siskin has enjoyed a “spectacular” increase of 166% in the number of occupied 10km squares. Gains were achieved in Wales and large parts of Ireland. In Scotland, Siskins have spread into the northeast and onto the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides 


It was good to see the Goldfinch at the top of the scoresheet today. The Goldfinch is now so abundant we often forget that it too is a partial migrant which returns north at this time of year. Because Goldfinches are always around in wintertime, albeit in reduced numbers, it is not always easy to spot the spring arrivals. 


The Goldfinch has a chequered history in the UK, a past and present story which is replicated here in the county of Lancashire where during the late 19th century it was almost extinct as a breeding species. 

The then status of the Goldfinch is described in a book from 1892 - The Birds of Lancashire by F. S. Mitchell. “The Goldfinch is resident, but so decreased in numbers as to be almost extinct. The march of agriculture is one great reason for this; waste lands where thistle is its favourite food, groundsel and nettles used to grow in plenty, being now so largely brought under cultivation. The bird-catcher too (or as he is more commonly called the "tuttler" or "touter" i.e. one who entices), is the deadly enemy of the Goldfinch, and any stray individuals are at once captured to satisfy the exigencies of the demand from the large towns.” 

The Goldfinch hung on in there until during the 1980’s there came a sudden revival in its fortunes. 

The following information is also taken from the BTO Atlas 2007-11. “Since the 1990s the UK Goldfinch population has exploded, a phenomenon almost entirely explained by improved annual survival. During 1995-2010 there was a 91% increase in the UK breeding population and a 158% increase during 1998-2010 in Ireland. 

The Goldfinch owes much of its recent success to adapting to and exploiting bird feeding stations in suburban gardens and elsewhere. Goldfinches were recorded in 50-60% of gardens in Britain in 2011 with a similar pattern evident in Ireland with Goldfinches recorded in 80% of gardens.” 

Stay tuned. There will be more finch tales soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird WednesdayAnni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.


David M. Gascoigne, said...

Hi Phil: I find your comment about not complaining about seeing the same species interesting. It seems to me that this is bound to happen when one covers the same area on a regular basis. It certainly happens to me but it doesn't make the activity any less interesting. Getting to know familiar species is a good part of the allure of birding and it is rewarding to understand common species better and to understand more of their life cycle.

Linda said...

Gorgeous photos, Phil!

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil, gorgeous birds and photos. The Lesser Redpoll is one of my favorites. I am glad you are enjoying some nice weather. Happy Birding! Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

Lowcarb team member said...

Hello Phil
Yes, the early mornings have been somewhat cool and ice scrapers have been needed at times!

I really enjoyed your post and the detail, thank you.
The siskins have such lovely colouring ... well they all do don't they.

Hope you have a great weekend.

All the best Jan

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

It is good news and gives one hope that the goldfinch are doing well partly because of garden/yard feeders. A small thing people can do for the world -- at the same time as they are enjoying the beauty and antics of their yardbirds! A real win-win situation.

I'm always in awe of bird migrations -- and the siskins particularly -- they seem to very tiny and fragile it is amazing to think of them flying across the sea.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

What beautiful coloration in the finches. We have hundreds of goldfinches migrating through Florida right now. They are in our feeders all day long and we are filling it with seed daily...but we love them. Enjoy your weekend!

Anni said...

The familiarity of ringing species over and over would NOT ever bother me....I would be pleased as punch!

Fantastic narration....always interesting to read about your experience. Thanks for participating at I'd rather b birdin' this weekend.

Breathtaking said...

Hello Phil!:) Just holding birds in the hand would be a thrilling experience, and wouldn't care if they were the same species either. Interesting read about the increased numbers of Goldfinches over ten years in the UK. Do you know Phil, I rarely see a bird house or feeder in Portuguese gardens, it's a great shame, although some of us do try to help, it's not nearly enough.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Great report and pics, Phil. Your European Goldfinch has a different look than the ones we have over here.

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

Lovely shots Phil. Have a great week ahead.

Stewart M said...

Nice post - I always find getting controls exciting - although they are few and far between on the waders we trap - largely due to the fact that I am only involved in a few sites and the birds seen rather 'loyal' to those sites.

I have read one explanation for the 'no nest' strategy of White Terns is a defence against nest parasites - which can be really damaging at times. Makes sense, but does not make it true!

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

A Colorful World said...

It's so interesting that the info on the bird bands can be shared and can help ornithologists understand each species. You are doing an awesome work! I am so glad the thistle feeders have probably helped the comeback of the goldfinch. Wonderful shots.

Photo Cache said...

These little birds are awesome looking.

Worth a Thousand Words

carol l mckenna said...

You always have wonderful macro shots of beautiful birds ~ Wow!

Happy Week to you ~ ^_^

sandyland said...

red dotted enchanting

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Those Redpolls are just such beauties, love them! We are kind of at a standstill on local birds, but I am beginning to see the return of the migrating species and will look forward as will you at seeing more in coming days. Happy that your weather is settled. We are having up and down and today is up, yeah going to be 68 and sunny, yesterday was cold and rainy...never know, just enjoy them as they come as best as possible. Take care~

Rohrerbot said...

Really nice historical data here on these birds. It's amazing how bird populations can explode or decrease in sharp numbers. These birds seem to be doing well. I have yet to see ANY Redpolls in my short life span but one of these days it will happen. Thanks for the information and it's good to be back reading blogs again. I was out on my own treks researching the Spotted Dove. This bird has seen a HUGE decrease in population numbers over the years in the US. It was an exotic that was quite common. Today, not so much. Interesting stuff these birds make us study:)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Finches are among my favorite birds...they are so loving and happy-making. And I love their songs <3

Sharon Wagner said...

Those little birds have amazing markings. Lovely images too. And very informative post!

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