Sunday, 5 November 2017

Not Quite Meisen Wood - October 27th to 29th


Nets: Yes and various spring and drop traps
Sound: multiple melodies.
Ringers: numerous from various parts of Germany


For historical and political reasons Germany has three independent ringing schemes: Helgoland, Hiddensee and Radolfzell.  Each scheme issues its own ringing permits and rings.

And then there is a fourth organisation: Pro-ring. This wonderful organisation, with members from all three ringing schemes, sells ringing equipment at sensible prices and organises courses (called Praxis-seminars) in various parts of Germany so making them accessible to all ringers.  The course topics are frequently in response to ringers’ requests.

Thus last Friday we drove south for several hours into Germany’s industrial Rhineland to participate in a seminar concentrating on catching Skylarks, Ring-necked Parakeets, the use of various spring traps, and sound lures. The course was held on an old farm near Düsseldorf, the farmhouse was traditional: split into two sections - living quarters (our accommodation) and a stable/workshed area that was used for talks, meals, some bird processing and socialising – a key component of such seminars were ringing experience, experiences and concerns (and solutions) are shared.

The night was spent examining, extracting and processing Skylarks from three hoist nets set in a close configuration in one of the farm’s meadows.  In the centre of the three parallel ten panel nets was a sound system blaring out Skylark song!  In total fifteen Skylarks were lured into the nets.  Not a phenomenal number but that is irrelevant; the relevance was the discussion of alternative effective net configurations and why such loud song was used.  Such a loud song and an alternative net arrangement will be coming to a meadow near Meisen Wood soon!

After a short sleep – really a long nap – we had a short ringing session and caught just shy of two hundred birds.  This was followed by an interesting talk on the potential value of golf courses to nature conservation. 

We then adjourned to a Düsseldorf suburb to examine and see in action a selection of spring and drop traps.  Two traps were set to catch Ring-necked parakeets and shortly a parakeet was caught. The bird was ringed, with due care and finger protection from the bird’s formidable bill; aged and sexed. More fascinating was how these exotic birds suffer from frostbite, often with lethal results. In Köln, where the parakeet’s population exceeds 30,000, they are known as the “plague birds”, and many residents must be wishing for some severe winters


So we returned home having enjoyed chatting to fellow ringers; in the possession of four new spring traps; and most importantly some ideas to try out!

Skylark

Ring-necked Parakeet with hand protection

Friday, 3 November 2017

Marsworth 27th and 29th October - Faulty feathers

Two very different days ringing just two days apart.
Friday was beautiful weather, sunny and calm, so I took the opportunity to get out and tried a new net near the nyger seed feeder that I put out last week. Nothing seems to have found the feeder yet but it is still a nice position for a net at the edge of the trees in the low willow scrub. The Redwing tape brought in a few individuals and I also caught the first Redpolls of the year; we generally only catch Redpolls in October and November when they are passing through. The new net also caught a new Great Spotted Woodpecker with quite dramatic fault bars across his flight feathers. Fault bars are  caused by an interruption in nutrition while the feathers are growing and when the fault lines up across the feathers like this they indicate that the feathers all grew simultaneously. Fault bars are not unusual in juvenile birds.
Great Spotted Woodpecker with pale fault bars across unmoulted secondaries and primary coverts.
There were some interesting fault bars to be seen on other birds as well as the woodpecker. An adult Blue Tit had a fault bar across three of his tail feathers, it looked as though he had replaced his tail as part of the normal post-breeding moult and then had to replace three feathers from some accidental loss. Why the replaced feathers had a fault bar is curious - perhaps he had a near miss with a sparrowhawk and had been below par in his foraging for a few days? In any case it was a good example of how a fault bar can be present on adult type feathers.

4M Blue Tit with fault bar across three feathers
I also caught a new control Cetti's Warbler that was ringed at Rutland Water in June as a 3J. This bird had very poor feathers. The primaries were extremely tatty and the tail had some of the feather tips completely broken off apparently caused by a combination of fault bars and feather mites. Five of the feathers looked as though they had already been replaced and it will be interesting if we retrap this bird to see if she carries on replacing tail feathers as necessary.

Juvenile Cetti's Warbler from Rutland Water
Thankfully the hornets have largely disappeared now that there has been some colder weather, I spotted one later on in the morning when the temperature rose which hurried me into taking the nets down. I have had enough of cutting nets to release them!

After the pleasant day on Friday the weather on Sunday was very different. The forecast had been for breezy weather but when Gabor, Chris and I got there at 06:30 it was more like 25mph. We stood around for a while trying to decide whether to bother but the wind started to drop so we put a few nets up in the more sheltered areas. We managed to get five nets up in the end and caught Goldcrests, two more Redpolls and four Chiffchaff. We tried a hopeful tape lure of Hawfinch call following numerous sightings of Hawfinch passing over in the last week but no luck. A few Goldcrests, a Bullfinch and a Long-tail Tit flock of mainly retraps brought the total for the day up to 33.

Lynne


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Meisen Wood, Germany - October 21st - Large Blue


108m nets
Sound: Redwing, Goldcrest/Chiffchaff
Weather: cloudy becoming wet and windy.
Ringers:  CS and EB

Species
Ringed
Re - traps
Totals
Blue Tit
9
6
15
Dunnock
1

1
Goldcrest
13

13
Great Tit
7
11
18
Marsh Tit
1
4
5
Redwing
8

8
Robin
2

2
Song Thrush
1

1
Treecreeper
1

1
Wren

1
1
Total
43
22
65

Well we got that wrong!  The weather radar showed storm Brian spewing numerous windy showers across the north German Plain that would arrive here on Saturday from 1300hrs onwards; and Sunday would be a complete washout.  So we switched to ringing on Saturday morning; aware that the session could be cut short.

Initially it went well: the first two net rounds yielding 31 and 21 birds respectively.  Then when processing the second rounds’ birds the light became reminiscent of a dreary December day and it started raining; so we finished early.  But then, some ringing is better than no ringing, and the total of 65 birds was pleasing.

Among the 22 re-traps was a large, male Blue Tit with a wing length of 73mm; double checked by both of us.  It was originally ringed in October 2015 with a wing length of 71mm. On Saturday its other measurements were: weight 12.5g, and fat score 3. Curiously in late autumn/early winter we catch several Blue Tits with wing lengths of 70 and 71mm.  We speculate that these birds have more northerly origins, much like northern blackbirds have longer wings to power their migratory flights.  Oh to get some controls.

We catch good numbers of birds that many people are surprised to learn are migrants, or partial migrants, such as: Blue Tit, Wren, Robin, Dunnock and Great Tit.  On Saturday we caught some heavy individuals of Robin (23.5g), Dunnock (22.7g) and a Great Tit (21.1g), all with fat scores of five.  This temporary obesity is an adaptation for fuelling their migration.  If they were permanently at those weights, according to the scientific literature, their manoeuvrability would be compromised so increasing their probability of being predated.


Finally, sadly, on a disappointing note the Goldcrest numbers are worryingly low!  Normally by mid- October we’ve ringed about 400 but so far this Autumn our total is 59, are they still to come or have they had a catastrophic breeding season?  Time will tell!  Thumbs pressed.



Friday, 20 October 2017

Wilstone 15th October 2017

Nets 340’
Warm and breezy
JT, JSJ and JD

Another breezy morning, more so than lately, so only two nets put up at rides 1 and 8.

Tried redwing tape for the first time this autumn, not too successful first thing but managed four by the end of the morning. Three of which were large, heavy-set birds with long wings of 124mm and 126mm. Streaks were bold underneath and eye stripe bolder, so maybe subspecies Corburnii ? 

Ten more chiffchaff and more goldcrests caught including adults. Only two blackcaps one of which however was previously ringed with a ring issued by one of the German schemes: Radolsfell, the Max Planckt Institute, which is exciting and I can't wait to see where it was ringed.

We also retrapped one of our juvenile marsh tits which was nice and the cetti's warbler was singing off and on throughout the morning which is also nice.

The mechanical digger comes on Monday to start on the new pond to be dug between net ride 5 and end of net ride 4 and also to make improvements to the pond at net ride 2. So it will be interesting to monitor the effects this will have on the reed bed.
Johne



 
Blackcap ringed abroad

Marsh Tit

Meisen Wood, Germany - 15th October 2017 - In the nets, in the sky.


Nets: 120m
Sound: Redwing, Chiff/Goldcrest, Robin.
Weather: damp becoming bright with a moderate wind.
Ringers:  CS and EB

Species
Ringed
Re - trap
Total
Blackbird

1
1
Blue Tit
5
9
14
Coal Tit

1
1
Dunnock

1
1
Firecrest
2

2
Goldcrest
9
1
10
Great Tit
3
6
9
Löng tailed Tit

1
1
Marsh Tit
1
4
5
Redwing
9

9
Robin
2
1
3
Treecreeper
1

1
Wren

1
1
Totals
32
26
58

Sometimes bird ringing occurs on a perfect day: good numbers with a reasonable variety of species to process; and the time to appreciate the environment where one is ringing.  Today was such a day.

Despite many robins calling only three responded to the tape.  Meanwhile the “Latvian love song” pulled: nine redwings in the net, our best ever single day capture.  Interestingly none of the redwings were carrying fat but all had muscle scores of 2 or 3 thus, presumably, re – fuelling before continuing their migration.
Redwing

Nine new goldcrests were a good number given their scarcity of late; but is still worryingly low.  The re-trap goldcrest was an old lady, originally ringed in late September 2015 and re-caught on nearly the same date in 2016.  Curiously a blue tit originally ringed on the same date as the above goldcrest was re-trapped today for the first time; where has it been?

Net rounds were also fungal forays. The Boletus fungi were impressive though all had been nibbled by mice or snails (if snails nibble).  There were large numbers of foraging hornets too, and after extracting eleven on one net round in one net ride we decided to close those nets.

From our processing table we look along the wooded slopes of the Teutonberg Hills where today, between net rounds and processing, we watched a good number of migrants using the updrafts and thermals the hills create: 51 buzzards, 2 red kite, 2 sparrowhawks and a goshawk soared effortlessly over us.  A flock of approximately 400 wood pigeons temporarily formed a moving shadow. Additionally there was a constant passage of small chaffinch, siskin and redwing flocks; plus crossbills and the autumn’s first brambling were heard.

A most enjoyable morning’s ringing.

Boletus fungus



Meisen Wood, Germany - October 8th - Meagre Offerings


104m nets
Sound: Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Robin and Dunnock
Weather: initial rain clearing and becoming a fine, warm sunny morning.
Ringers: CS and EB

Species
New
Re - trap
Totals
Blue Tit
4
1
5
Chaffinch
1

1
Crested Tit
1

1
Goldcrest
3
1
4
Great Tit
3
3
6
Marsh Tit
1

1
Totals
13
5
18

A rain delayed start allowed us to have a more leisurely and fulsome breakfast.  The disappointing totals can only be partially explained by a weather shortened session.  The comparable dates have an average catch of 56 birds, which were chiefly composed of Goldcrests.  To date there have been no indications of Goldcrest migration which is unsurprising given the stormy, windy weather we have been having. 

Despite this, the day’s meagre tally contained some interesting data.  Three each of the Blue and Great Tits had fat scores of 2 or 3; so are they passage migrants?  Fat score is not an absolute indicator of migratory behaviour but it is strongly suggestive.  Future re-trapping encounters will potentially provide an answer.  A re-trap Great Tit was ringed as a pullus in May.  We don’t recapture many of the pulli we ring, presumably because many of them rapidly become fodder for local predators.  The 12th new Marsh Tit of the year was a fine addition to the day’s figures.

A Crested Tit is always most welcome, these diminutively handsome birds are present locally in low abundance.  In the Heligoland Ringing Area about one hundred are ringed annually.  Typically we ring about 10 per annum and re-trap several individuals from this and previous years.  Differentiating adults and juveniles is fairly straight forward until late winter/early spring thus we obtain a crude indication of how the local population is faring; part of the value of ringing.


One advantage of the continuous wet, warm weather is the abundance of fungi in the woods; the Earthstars are particularly impressive.




Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Marsworth - 12th October 2017 - First Redwing and HMWT Work Party

06:00 - 10:00
Nets: 240' Tapes: Goldcrest/Chiffchaff mix, Redwing, Redpoll, Pied Wagtail
Ringers LL, CMS
Slightly breezy

A work party was planned for today starting at 10am so Claire and thought we might get a bit of ringing in first. Given the problem with hornets last Sunday we stayed away from that side of the site and tried the new net under the trees. The tape of male Tawny Owls illicited a response from two males either side of the net line but they didn't come close.  We switched to female calls but this did not have the desired effect either and by now it was getting light. We tried Redwing tape and this did have the desired effect with our first Redwing of the autumn - a clear adult with a small amount of fat. We also caught a number of Goldcrests and their weights were much lower than last week, three were less than 5g.
The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) warden and volunteers arrived while we were packing up and we were able to show them a few birds before we got on with the hard work of cutting reed as part of HMWT's ongoing conservation work at Marsworth.

Species
Row total
New Bird
Retrap
Blackcap
1
1

Blue Tit
1
1

Goldcrest
10
9
1
Great Tit
2
2

Redwing
1
1

Robin
2
1
1
Wren
9
6
3
Totals
26
21
5

The reed bed at Marsworth is becoming increasingly dry as the fallen reed builds up over the years. To help the reed bed remain vigorous we cut an area of fallen reed with brush-cutters and raked up the cuttings and as much of the dead reed bed as possible. We also cut some channels into the reed from the water's edge which will will become wet as the water level rises over winter. This is to improve the habitat for Bitterns that over-winter at Marsworth and also gives better views for bird-watchers.
Large area of dry fallen reed cut and cleared

Reed cleared to encourage growth next year

Channel cut into the reed bed to improve the habitat for bitterns
HMWT Warden, Josh