Friday 28th March
Just six new birds ringed today and Magpie was a ‘first’ for the year. We don’t get too many controls of this species, except via Ian from a local farmer who shoots them and returns the rings to us. We are not learning too much about Magpie longevity!
The stars of the day were three male Yellowhammers showing very well on Graham’s photograph – an adult male very clearly identified on the left with two young birds.
We are all aware of the decline in Yellowhammers and the BTO have documented this very clearly in the new ATLAS. There has been a range contraction of 21% since their 1968-72 Atlas and a 55% decline in numbers in the years between 1970–2010. This iconic species is closely associated with cereal farming, so a loss of arable to intensive grassland in parts of the country, lack of winter stubble and more intensive production will almost certainly have led to this sharp drop in breeding numbers. The estimated population for Britain & Ireland now stands at 700,000 pairs.
The most dramatic decline has been in N.W. Ireland where cereal has gone almost completely to meat and dairy production over the last 40 years.
Ringing Report Sunday 23rd– Wednesday 26th March
We are still catching very few birds, with a trickle of late arriving Chiffchaffs and some Reed Buntings still around. One of the new Chiffchaffs on Monday was carrying large amounts of fat indicating that it was probably a passage migrant with plenty of stored energy resources for its onward journey. We are clearly able to see the yellow fat through the bird’s transparent skin, as it is stored subcutaneously. We then give it a ‘score’ indicating a pattern of coverage for recording purposes. The fat on this bird was spilling out both above and below the sternum and around the top of its flanks, thus recording a high score of 5. If you would like to know more about this, please visit us in the Ringing Room and we will be pleased to explain more about these very interesting details.
Reed Buntings are very difficult to age at this time of year and we have to check several aspects of plumage detail. One point that we can see well currently is the extreme black detail on each of the very chestnut median coverts and the same intensity of black on both the tertials (T7, 8 & 9) and the last three secondaries (S4, 5 & 6.) You can see this on the photograph of an adult male wing.
Some Recent Recapture Details
On Wednesday 26th March 2014 we re-trapped a male Great Tit that was first ringed as a juvenile on 9th July 2007. Thus making it nearly 7 years old – a local bird as it had been caught on several occasions in the meantime. BTO records show the oldest recorded Great Tit at 13years 11months 5days, so although a goodage our bird has a long way to go to beat that.
Also an adult female Barn Owl first ringed while nesting on Minster Marshes in 2010 has subsequently bred in
2012 east of Sandwich and in 2013 closer to the Observatory – thus using at least three nesting sites.
Ringing Report Tuesday 18th & Wednesday 19th March
Both very quiet days with two more Chiffchaffs on Tuesday plus more Chaffinches, new and re-trap Blue tits, Great tits, Reed buntings, Collared doves, Robin and Greenfinch. However as new trainees, Sarah, Liz and John were pleased with their introduction to handling birds.
In inland parts of the County Lesser Redpolls are still around in good numbers in a variety of sites wherever Alders grow, on river banks, around reservoirs, flooded gravel and sand pits and woodland. They are also attracted to garden feeders. Here at Sandwich Bay we do not see them at this time, however, we ring very large numbers in autumn. The result of this is that we have had many of our ringed birds controlled both around the UK and in Europe over the years.
We were reminded of one of these recently by Bob Martin who was looking at the Brecknock Birds Ringing Page on their website. The report was by a birder who read the ring number from photos of a Lesser Redpoll at a feeder in his garden on 16th December 2013 in Brecon. It had been ringed at the Observatory by Cally Tardival as a first year male on 7th October 2010, 1,166 days before and the distance between Sandwich and Brecon – 339 kms. It was one of 129 birds caught that day which included 34 Lesser Redpolls, 34 Chiffchaffs, 17 Blackcaps and 13 Blue Tits.
Sunday 16th March
Another fairly quiet day with 20 new Chaffinches, 2 Great Tits, 4 Greenfinches and a few others.
This is therefore an opportunity to include a great Snow Bunting photograph that Andrew Lipczynski took on Princes’ Beach on 19th February. He was delighted to see that the bird had a colour ring which he was able to read (see photo) – White ring/black no. H3. The details were sent to BTO colour ringing where it was found that the bird, a young female, had been ringed only a couple of months earlier on 15th December 2013 at Calais in France, so an important recovery.
This Snow Bunting was of the sub-species nivalis which Sandwich Bay ringers have ringed or controlled in good numbers over the years. This sub-species comes from the Continent, mainly Fenno-Scandia and another sub-species, insulae from Iceland is seen much less frequently at Sandwich.
The sub-species of males can be determined in the field in winter:
Plectrophenax nivalis nivalis has a white rump or white feathers tipped ginger or rusty-brown, becoming more obvious as spring approaches due to abrasion.
Plectrophenax nivalis insulae has a black rump, often with tips tawny to dark brown. Be aware of the white feathers edging the rump.
Sub-species nivalis generally average whiter or lighter than insulae, but differences are rarely sufficiently clear-cut to separate them. Look out for the very pale birds.
In females the bird needs to be in the hand to determine the sub-species and is easily done by looking at the web at the end of the underside of the ninth primary, where nivalis has less than or equal to 40% black and insulae, more than or equal to 60% black.
P.n. vlansowae, the Siberian race is a vagrant to Britain. In the males, the white rump extends onto the lower back and the females seem to be indistinguishable from P.n. nivalis.
This information is based on Svensson’s Identifaication Guide to European Passerines, Salomonsen (1931), Rae & Marquis 1989 and the experience in Highland Region and put together by Banks et al 1990.
Thurs 13th & Fri 14th March
- Young Redwing by Becky Johnson
A total of 21 new Chaffinches were ringed over both days as the movement continues. A 6F (adult female) was re-trapped on Friday and was found to have been first ringed here as a 3F (young female) on 12th December 2011. Where has she been breeding and travelling over the last 27 months?
Another interesting bird ringed on Thursday was a ‘continental’ Great Tit with washed out pale yellow front and grey back – very different and much less colourful than our British birds.
Our first probable summer visitor of the year – a Chiffchaff was ringed on Thursday along with a Redwing, also a new species for 2014. Redwings are winter visitors, flocking now prior to migrating back to vast breeding areas from Iceland eastwards through Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and as far as the Kolyma Basin in eastern Siberia. Over 60% of British and Irish-ringed Redwings have been recovered in Finland compared to 5% from Norway and 14% from Sweden. Considering the extremely sparse human population in Russia, the 15% of our winter ringed Redwings recovered there is a surprisingly high figure.
They will be moving through the UK at the moment in loose flocks – listen out for their strange ‘murmuration’, a chorus of twittering and chuckling song.
Weds 12th March
Ringing continues to be fairly quiet but four Trainees benefitted from the experience of processing a few more birds today in unhurried conditions.
We processed 12 more Chaffinches which continue to trickle through plus other species including Reed Bunting, House Sparrow and Goldfinch. Photographs of the latter taken today enable us to clearly see the difference between male and female Goldfinch. On the male, the red facial mask extends well back behind the eye and on the female it does not. Nasal bristles which extend over the base of the upper mandible are black on males and buff on females.
Monday 9th & Tuesday 10th
Reed Buntings are still stopping off for a day or two to feed in the Haven Stream in quite good numbers and we are re-trapping birds ringed here in previous years. With 18 Chaffinches ringed in the last two days we are still seeing a steady flow of this species back into their European breeding grounds. A wing length of 90mm or more indicates that a lot, if not all, of the birds that we are processing are of Continental origin.
A ‘first’ for 2014 was this young male Goldcrest showing a good patch of orange in the yellow crown. For us the species weighs in on average at between 5.1 – 5.3 grams and this bird was on the scales at 6.2 grams and was carrying a good amount of fat, indicating that it was probably building-up for its journey back into Europe. We see many more Goldcrests in October and November when they first arrive as winter visitors. Interestingly the BTO Migration Atlas shows birds wintering in Britain migrating from the Low Countries, Southern Norway and around The Baltic.
No ringing as such today but 14 ringers and conservationists turned out to save the orchids! The recent rains have flooded much of the meadow that hosts four species of orchid and the pump was manhandled over to the Whitehouse today to drain as much as possible into the Haven Stream. The Haven Stream has also had the exit pipe cleared and is now draining the whole area more effectively into the Haven Cut. With any luck the majority of Green-winged Orchids (the first to appear) will have survived. The Crow Trap was also returned to operation after nearly a year of being unused. Although it is called a “Crow” Trap it has only once caught crows (17 Rooks) in its 30 year history!
Another quiet day, but that is to be expected for this time of year. 24 birds were caught including three Chaffinches plus four retraps, a Greenfinch, three Reed Buntings plus six retraps, two retrapped Great Tits, two retrapped Blue Tits and single retraps of House Sparrow, Dunnock and a Robin.
After yesterday’s mammoth effort, today was always going to be a lot quieter. 26 birds were caught today including three Reed Buntings plus a retrap, two Blue Tits plus a retrap, four Chaffinches plus six retraps, a Great Tit plus a retrap, one Greenfinch plus two retraps, a male Goldfinch and a Yellowhammer, caught and ringed yesterday. However, the most interesting bird caught today was a retrapped House Sparrow. Originally ringed as an adult male in February 2007, it was caught again in the same year, again in 2009 when it was caught twice, then in 2011 and in 2012, its last appearance in the nets until today. It was caught once in the Haven, otherwise each time it was in the White House ringing area.
It felt like a beautiful Spring-like day, with almost no wind and clear skies. The ringers turned out in force with four ‘A’ Permit holders around, two ‘C’ Permit holders and three trainees and a very busy day produced 113 birds in the nets (68 new birds and 45 retraps). Birds caught included 22 Greenfinches plus seven retraps, three Goldfinches plus three retraps, seven Reed Buntings plus five retraps, a Starling, five Collared Doves, a Blackbird, a Great Tit plus four retraps, a stunning adult male Stock Dove, two House Sparrows plus three retraps, 21 Chaffinches plus 17 retraps, two Long-tailed Tits, a stunning male Mistle Thrush, a male Yellowhammer plus two male retraps from previous years, a retrapped Dunnock, two retrapped Blue Tits and a retrapped Robin.
The photograph shows the extent of the flooding in the trapping area which, believe it or not, is less deep than a few weeks ago!
The following retraps were caught –
Chaffinch – T896652. First ringed as a young male (i.e. hatched that year) on 06/12/2006 and caught only in the winter months of 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013 and again today by Lucy. This is clearly a returning winter visitor now nearly eight years old. The British record is just over 12 years. It’s wing-length was 93mm suggesting a Scandinavian origin. Contrast this with the next bird.
Chaffinch – X198856. First ringed on 10/10/2009 as a young male and retrapped in nearly every month of the year until today by John B. This is a locally bred resident British bird with a typically short wing-length of only 86mm.
Blue Tit – V485959. First ringed as a juvenile (i.e. carrying brown juvenile body feathers rather than the blue) on 27/06/08 by Graham. It was retrapped 18 times to today (by Lucy). This bird has been sexed as male on four occasions in spring when cloacal protuberance is obvious. This Blue Tit needs its Bus Pass at nearly six years old with the British record at 9years 9months
A quiet day today with 12 new birds and two retraps including three Chaffinches, five Greenfinches, singles of Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Wren and a Dunnock plus a retrap and a retrapped Great Tit.