Saturday, 10 February 2018

Constant Effort Ringing in 2017

Sat here in the howling wind and rain pondering what to do and where to go, got me reminiscing about the summer months of last year and some of the avian joys that I encountered. Not least of which was some of the birds that I met whilst carrying out a newly formed CES study at Goss Moor, Cornwall. 

What is a CES? 

CES is a BTO led study and stands for Constant Effort Ringing. More information can be found here:

The CES Scheme uses catches from standardised mist-netting to monitor key aspects of the demography of 24 common breeding songbirds. Around 130 sites are monitored through the breeding season, with twelve standard visits between May and August. Changes in the total number of adults caught provides a measure of changing population size, whilst the proportion of young birds caught forms an index of breeding success. Re-traps of adult birds ringed in previous years are also used to estimate annual survival rates.

I had been ringing on the Goss for about 3 years and decided that, whilst my results were good and the data valuable, I wanted to make the study of more use long term. Setting up a CES seemed the best way to do this to achieve useful long term data on a local and national scale. I opted to use 7 nets spanning 380 ft, with my ringing station centred in the middle of them. This meant that I could extract and process birds in a timely manner and let them on their merry way straight after. After talking with the wardens from Natural England I opted for this location as I knew from previous ringing sessions that there were Willow Tit in the area and both the BTO and Natural England both valued data on this declining species. It was also a good area for general Warbler populations and I was especially interested in studying Garden Warbler which is prolific on the Moor and is one of the few locations in Cornwall were the population is dense.   

Goss Moor is a 480 hectare National Nature Reserve (NNR) which is owned and managed by Natural England.

The Results 

8th of May

A selection of the first birds ringed on the newly formed CES

I was pleased with my first visit and processed more than I was expecting as species can be quite elusive at this time of year.

Long-tailed Tit x 2, Blackbird x 3, Willow Warbler x 6, Treecreeper x 2, Reed Bunting x 2, Goldcrest x 1, Garden Warbler x 1, Dunnock x 1, Chiffchaff x 3, Bullfinch x 3, Blackcap x 1, Robin x 3 and a Willow Tit.

Total = 29

18th of May

Slightly quieter as birds begin to settle on nests and are generally less active before young birds hatch. 

Robin x 1, Goldcrest x 1, Willow Tit x 1, Long-tailed Tit x 1, Chiffchaff x 1, Blackcap x 2, Bullfinch x 4, Willow Warbler x 6 and Garden Warbler x 3.

Total = 20

29th of May

This visit saw the first fledged young on the wing. All juvenile birds will be shown in brackets.

Garden Warbler x 4, Wren x 1 (1), Willow Warbler x 5, Song Thrush x 1, Robin x 2 (6), Goldcrest x 2, Dunnock x 1, Chaffinch x 3, Bullfinch x 4, Blue Tit x 2, Blackcap x 4 (1), Blackbird x 1, Long-tailed Tit x 2 (8).  

Total = 48

4th of June

Lovely to see recently fledged young out on the wing

Perhaps a bit too soon since my last visit but my circumstances dictated when I could carry out the session.

Long-tailed Tit x 1 (1), Bullfinch x 3, Wren x 1, Willow Warbler x 2, Treecreeper x 1 (2), Robin x 4 (1), Blackbird x (1), Chaffinch x 1, Chiffchaff x (2), Blackcap x (1) and a single Garden Warbler.

Total = 23

18th of June

Juvenile birds were starting to become much denser in this visit and made up over 50% of the birds processed.

Willow Warbler 5 (2), Wren (1), Robin 1 (6), Long-tailed Tit (1), Great Tit (1), Goldcrest 1, Chiffchaff (1), Chaffinch 1, Bullfinch 2, Blue Tit 1 (3), Blackcap 2 (7), Blackbird 1 (1), Garden Warbler (2).

Total = 39

1st of July 

61 juveniles were caught in this visit and seen large flocks of tits starting to flock together and rove around the Moor. 

Coal Tit 2 (8), Willow Warbler 5 (8), Robin 1 (2), Marsh Tit 1 (1), Long-tailed Tit 5 (12), Great Tit (10), Goldcrest 1, Blackcap 3 (3), Dunnock 2 (1), Chiffchaff 2 (4), Bullfinch 5, Blue Tit 2 (8), Garden Warbler (3).

Total = 90 

9th of July

This session saw the largest catch of the year with over 80% of the catch juvenile birds. 

Coal Tit (5), Blackcap 5 (49), Blue Tit 2 (8), Chiffchaff 2 (12), Swallow 1 (3), Bullfinch 7, Willow Warbler 5 (6), Robin (6), Long-tailed Tit (3), Great Tit 2 (4), Goldcrest (2), Garden Warbler (6), Dunnock (2), Wren 1 (10).

Total = 141

17th of July

The first juvenile Willow Tit of the year

Whilst not such a large catch as the last session over 90 % were juveniles during this visit.

Robin 1 (2), Dunnock (3), Wren (4), Willow Tit (1), Long-tailed Tit (1), Great Tit (1), Garden Warbler (6), Chiffchaff (3), Chaffinch (2), Bullfinch 5 (4), Blackbird (1), Blue Tit (3), Blackcap 1 (36), Coal Tit (4), Willow Warbler 2 (5).

Total = 85 

31st of July

Two more juvenile Willow Tits during session 9

Still a good session but had got quieter compared to the last few visits.

Coal Tit (2), Willow Warbler (6), Willow Tit (2), Robin (2), Great Tit 1 (4), Goldcrest 1, Dunnock 1 (1), Chiffchaff (5), Bullfinch 2, Blue Tit 1 (3), Blackcap 1 (6), Wren (2), Garden Warbler (1).

Total = 41

6th of August

Lotti (8), Willow Warbler 2 (5), Treecreeper (1), Sedge Warbler (2), Robin (4), Marsh Tit (1), Garden Warbler 1 (1), Dunnock (2), Coal Tit (2), Chiffchaff 1 (3), Blackcap 2 (4), Blue Tit 2 (3), Goldcrest 1 (2).

Total = 47 

20th of August

Nice to get to see a Tree Pipit up close and personal

Robin (4), Wren (1), Willow Warbler 1 (1), Tree Pipit (1), Sedge Warbler 1, Jay (1), Garden Warbler (2), Coal Tit (3), Chiffchaff (4), Bullfinch (3), Blue Tit 1 (2), Blackcap 1 (8), Great Tit (1), Swallow 1 (1).

Total = 37

28th of August

Goss Moor harbours good numbers of Bullfinch throughout the year
Blackbird (1), Marsh Tit (1), Long-tailed Tit 3, Great Tit 1 (3), Goldcrest 3 (3), Dunnock (1), Coal Tit (2), Chaffinch (1), Blue Tit (13), Robin (1), Bullfinch (3). 

Total = 36

A grand total of 636 birds processed which I was most pleased with. I hope that 2018 is another successful year for the breeding birds on the Goss Moor. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

Dippers at Respryn

Somewhat inspired by a recent BBC nature program on Dippers I spent a couple of hours today watching these stunning birds go about their lives. It seems that Dippers start to Sing and display quite early in the season. The 2 birds I saw today where very preoccupied in various displays and sang throughout the morning as they chased each other up and down the river. I was surpised at how large their territory was as I followed them along the river ,I would estimate at least 1/2 mile.

I had also visited Respryn to check the Hornbeam tree's for Hawfinch but today I was out of luck. However several Marsh Tits, Treecreepers and Nuthatches kept me entertained but sadly the gloomy light wasn't much good for photography. I spent the rest of the day on Siblyback and Colliford Lakes, catching up with the female Scaup that me and Rachel found in November, the long staying Lesser Scaup and some interesting Gulls including Yellow-Legged and Caspian Gull.

East Cornwall

On Sunday myself and Pete took our annual trip up to the Lynher and Tamar Estuaries , it's usually a great days birding and our 2018 certainly lived up to expectations!

Our first place to visit was Kingsmill Lake which is a tributary of the Tamar and at China Fleet Golf Club there is a well positioned hide which often has good birds. As we walked across the golf course we saw several Mistle Thrushes and a Chiffchaff trying to find food on this very cold morning. Thankfully Pete didn't fall over ( he has fallen over at least 3 times on this path! Each time getting laughed at rather than sympathy from me!) . It was bitterly cold in the Hide but a good number of Avocets ( 2 of which where colour ringed) and other waders including Common Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank kept our spirits up.....

This Greenshank was very close to the hide

There had been a Glossy Ibis in the area for several weeks but could we see it? Could we hell! For some reason Glossy's are always a pain in the ass for me to see but eventually I picked it up roosting with some Little Egrets on the far side of the Estuary. Another good bird for the year was a smart Siberian Chiffchaff feeding with 2 more Common Chiffchaff's amongst the salt marsh.

After China Fleet we went on a whim to the local Churchyard at Saltash ( after I had googled places that had lots of Yew Tree's in the area.). Our quarry was Hawfinch as there had been a significant influx into the country over the past few months. It proved to be a good call as when I walked into the churchyard a single Hawfinch flew over my head and landed in the Yew tree next to the car where Pete had decided to sit and wait, so a great yeartick and find for him!

As the tide was now dropping we headed over to St Johns Lake but not before my stupid Sat Nav sent us on the wrong road and we had to cross the bridge into the unholy land! Poor Peter was nearly in tears as we drove into deepest darkest Devon before doing a sharp U turn ! Whilst I kept my eyes closed not wanting to see any birds that didn't count ha ha .


Metal ringed Mute Swan 

Over at St Johns lake we quickly spotted the local specialities of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Sandwich Terns and Red-breasted Merganser. Next on the list was Millbrook lake to look for an old friend, Edna the Egyptian Goose! Despite some negative news from a local birder we saw Edna and another Egyptian Goose within seconds, also of interest was a metal ringed Mute Swan , hoping to find out where it has come from soon!

It was nice to see plenty of Shelduck, a wonderful looking creature which sadly seem to be reducing in numbers, especially further west on the Hayle and Camel Estuary's

Heading home we checked various spots on the Lynher Estuary seeing yet more Avocets, 2 Whimbrel , Spotted Redshank and plenty of Wigeon and Teal. With the light fading we drove back through the county seeing no less than 5 Woodcocks zooming over the car. A great way to end a fab days birding.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Olive Backed Pipit at Trevose ! Great late migrants at Park Head

With a light south easterly forecast for the day ( probably the best wind for migrants at Trevose ) I was probably too keen as I arrived at the headland at least half an hour before sunrise! Still it gave me time to walk down to my favorite spot overlooking Trevose Golf Course and set my scope up in readiness for what I was hoping to be a good Vis Mig.  A few Thrushes were on the move at first light included a smart Fieldfare but apart from the odd Brambling , Siskin and Reed Bunting there wasn't really much going on. In the tamarisk hedge I enjoyed seeing two species which are common in most places but actually rather scarce on the headland, 8 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Bullfinch. By now movement overhead had fizzled out and with roadworks blocking my normal drive to the top of Trevose I was keen to start walking as I was planning to walk around the whole headland. I nipped back to the car to drop my scope off and set off down the golf course fairway towards some rough ground which can hold migrants. After a few footsteps a call made me stop dead in my tracks, a buzzy Pipit! It called a second time and I picked it up flying fairly low straight towards me , another call was heard as it flew straight over my head I reached for the camera for a record shot , it carried on up to the wires and landed , I couldn't believe my luck! But sadly it either dropped down into the tamarisk or carried on as I lost it to view. This all happened in less than a minute and I felt elated and frustrated at the same time as I am certain it was an Olive-backed Pipit!

  Call - Tree Pipit like but key differences : to my ear sounded 'softer' , less buzzy and clipped at the end , it didn't have that zzzZZZt of a Tree Pipit , more like zzzss .

In Flight - a strong flyer ( more purposeful than Meadow , and in turn Red-throated but no chance it was either of these species). Tail seemed short? No idea if this is a feature but it made the Pipit look rather stocky. Despite the poor light it looked bright and showed a contrast of colour between the underparts and upperparts which was quite interesting in the field, it also looked quite dark around the breast ( perhaps owing to heavy streaking).

Perched- Yes is looked bright , well streaked on the breast,  it had a good supercilium and looked uniform on the upperparts, but that is  is all I got , in my 10 second view I didn't see the black line under the supercilium or the pale spot on the ear coverts , I coudn't assess the flanks either. I was a good 100 yards away - probably too far to see these things. Views were better in flight.

So can I claim it? I think I can , it was a striking bird even in flight , the call was perefect! ( I would claim a calling bird again, I really think the call is different enough from Tree Pipit , I guess it helps that I've heard plenty of Tree Pipits  this year for comparison. I am also confident with my Pipit skills, they have always been my speciality.)

My record shot shows naff all really, but it does show the short tailed , stocky shape I noticed in the field, heavy streaking around the breast , plus you can see it literally flew over my head!

 Trevose didn't produce much else barring a few more finches overhead and a nice Black Redstart so I headed to Park Head for a change ( via lunch at Porthcothan were I heard a Cettis Warbler singing, a nice local record.) . What a great afternoon! Two stunning Black Redstarts showing well for photographs, a smart Snow Bunting on the headland and best of all and totally by surprise a Richards Pipit! A jogger flushed it out of tallish grass by the footpath and it landed in the long grass to the left of the path as you walk up from Porth Mear beach. I didn't chase it in case anyone else went looking for it as I think it's the only Richards that has been reported away from The Lizard/ West Cornwall ( I reckon it will be there tomorrow).

Black Redstart 

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

There were some big flocks of Woodpigeons passing through Park Head, I counted 750

I did have one last stop around the Trevarrian area hoping for a rare Bunting in the good habitat there, but I was happy enough to see a Redpoll and a Brambling feeding amongst finches and Buntings near to Bre Pen farm. Another great day out after I had a very quiet spell in September the end of this autumn has certainly been my purple patch this year.

Reed Bunting

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Nanjizal Ringing and Year listing mop up!

Yesterday Bob and I returned to West Cornwall for a spot of Ringing and Viz Migging at Nanjizal and then a jaunt around West Cornwall to see what else was on offer.

It was exciting arriving at Nanjizal shortly after dawn as it was apparent from the outset that there were birds about. Pigeon's and Thrushes could be seen and heard piling through overhead along with a good number of Siskin. We joined Kester, John, Robbie and Jake, the later two from Falmouth University. They were hoping to catch up with some Yellow-browed Warblers and Chiffchaff's as part of a study that they were conducting on the origin and movements of each species  After the first net round I was pleased to see that there were also a good number of grounded migrants to process and record and that Chiffchaff seemed to be numerous and a Yellow-browed was bagged ready for Robbie and Jake to carry out their study work. Everyone was happy! 

The morning was just stunning with clear blue sky's and little wind. The birds overhead were passing through in phenomenal numbers and it seemed like the Wood Pigeon's were replacing the clouds as large flocks filled the sky over the valley. It was hard to take it all in as I had to concentrate at the birds in hand, thankfully Bob got in touch with his feminine side and managed to multi task by scribing for the four of us and keep an eye on the passing birds!   

The morning ended with 185 birds ringed! An incredible 51 Chiffchaff, 25 Goldcrest, 6 Firecrest (this will bring the Nanjizal autumn total near to 200!), 2 Yellow-browed Warbler. 11 Blackcap, 3 Cetti's Warbler, 20 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Redwing and a single Brambling (this happened to be a long overdue ringing tick for me). Viz Mig records consisted of 4 Fieldfare, 4 Songthrush, 13 Redwing, 2619 Woodpigeon!, 56 Stock Dove, 1 Green Sandpiper, 84 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Common Snipe, 253 Golden Plover, 25 Lapwing, 2 Brambling, 1 Little Egret, 1 Kingfisher and 5 Swallows.

An incredible autumn for Firecrest's with many ringing stations processing unprecedented numbers!
It's not often that you get to appreciate the delicate structure of a Cetti's Warbler in Cornwall.


Siskin's could also seen in good numbers and 84 were recorded during the morning.

It was pleasing to see a Reed Bunting also moving through the valley.

Only a single Lesser Redpoll graced the nets, which was most welcome!

My bird of the morning came in the guise of this first year male Brambling! 
After the successful morning we plotted our route and were hopeful of picking up some lingering birds for the year list and we had also received some news that a Red-breasted Flycatcher had turned up at Kenidjack! 

Our first stop was Sennen were we were hopeful of encountering the Richard's Pipits that had been found a few days before. We set off and trudged our way around the grassy fields. I must admit I was finding this a slog after stomping around Nanjizal for the morning! I knew that the only way to get this bird secured on the year list was to knuckle down and drag my fat ass onward. This is always made even more difficult as I am always trying to keep up with lanky git (Bob) who musters one stride to two of mine! Thank god it paid off and 10 minutes in we heard the familiar "sneezey" call coming from the adjacent field as it took up from some rough ground very near to us. Whilst in the area we also recorded singles of Dunlin, Snipe and 2 Siskin. Thankful for the reward of our effort we headed for Kenidjack to try for the Red-breasted Flycatcher!

After a brief pit stop at St Just were I stocked up on energy drink and my all time stamina boosting secret, a Cornish Pasty, we made our way to Kenidjack and spotted a group of binocular clad chaps peering into a group of trees by the engine sheds. We parked the car and made our way to them. I was slightly disappointed to learn that they had not seen the Flycatcher but the finder was reliable and was told it was worth sticking it out. To be honest with you I would have anyway as the habitat is fantastic and right up my street! After a few minutes adjusting my eyes under the canopy of the mature trees Chiffchaff's and Crests were soon starting to materialise. A call went out that the Flycatcher was showing and I managed a clear but brief view as it flitted around in the distant vegetation. After awhile of waiting for it to show again my attention waned and went back to my new favourite stone wall bum perch. From here I had a good view and a flock of Long-tailed Tits added to the excitement bringing with them a Yellow-browed Warbler and a couple of Firecrest. Bob was muttering under his breath and when asked "what was up" he replied "I may have just had a couple of Hawfinch fly past but couldn't really nail them through the canopy foliage" or certainly words to that effect minus a few expletives! A Brambling settled on the tree canopy above us and started screaming in true Brambling style! The Flycatcher materialised again seemingly out of thin air and shortly after disintegrated into the foliage once again. We were both delighted to see the bird as it was one that we had hoped for all autumn and although views were not great it still left a satisfying memory in my mind! 

Our next stop was Drift where we knew a pair of Whopper Swan's had shown up the day before. Whilst talking to the locals at the Flycatcher twitch we were also informed that a Greenland White-fronted Goose was also present! Boom double whammy, we needed to get there before anything sinister happened and we dipped out. Thankfully we made it despite following Bob's gut instinct and taking a back road route. (Bob's sense of direction is sketchy and I often go the opposite way to his suggestion and find it was the right call to do so)! Both species were very obliging and we scoped them from the lay by gateway that overlooks the northern arm. We also observed a Kingfisher and 23 Stock Dove at the Reservoir.

If you are anywhere near Marazion at dusk I cannot recommend enough taking some time out and enjoying this natural spectacle!
We finished the day at Marazion Marsh as the sun set over Mounts Bay. Secretly I was hoping that a Great White Egret would show up as I need it for the year and it would be one that I would catch Bob up on as I was too busy ringing earlier in the year when an individual settled at Helston and Stithian's.  Alas no such luck, but you cannot go away disappointed with Marazion at this time of year as thousand's of Starlings gather in a flock and contort into beautiful murmurations just meters above the car park! What a spectacle to end a magnificent and successful day on and one that will stay in my memory for sometime to come.             

Monday, 30 October 2017

West Cornwall with Reuben

Yesterday I was keen to get down west to see the White Rumped Sandpiper at Gwithian for my year list . I got up extra early and arrived on site at dawn in case the dog walkers flushed the bird, happily for me this little stunner was very showy and very tame so I left it feeding away on the little puddle keen to go back in the afternoon and get some photographs in better light. Next stop was Porthgwarra and on the way I picked up Reuben who was keenly waiting by the roadside. We had a nice walk around Porthgwarra without turning up anything rare. Several Bramblings overhead were also new to my year list whilst on the ground some Firecrest's and 3 Black Redstarts added a bit of quality. The Vis Mig never really got going but we enjoyed seeing some Stock Doves, Reed Buntings, Siskins and Golden Plover.

An obliging Kestrel at Porthgwarra

Stock Doves migrating at Porthgwarra

Firecrest Porthgwarra

White Rumped Sandpiper

What a stunning bird this White Rumped Sandpiper is

Next stop was Sennen and we took our time checking the fields for Richards Pipit but we only flushed a few Snipe, ( Reuben beat me 8 Snipe - 4 Snipe!) . A Merlin put in a brief appearance and on a recently ploughed field we saw several Med Gulls, a single Common Gull and some Lapwings.

Time was ticking and we made our way up to Reubens local patch , the Hayle Estuary. Plenty of common waders were on show as well as 2 Spoonbills feeding at close quarters in the main channel. Finally it was back to Gwithian and we enjoyed crippling views and great photographs of the White Rumped, Pete also came down after work to enjoy this cracking yankee ( and to make sure I didn't get too far ahead in the yearlisting!). Despite missing the Richards Pipits it was a great day out in not so great birding conditions. Monday is going to be the big day!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A lovely walk at Siblyback and duck city @ Dozmary Pool

As it was such a lovely afternoon me and Rachel decided to head up to Bodmin Moor for a walk around Siblyback Lake , it was almost like a summers day as we headed along the shoreline and even the Butterflies were out in force as a late Clouded Yellow butterfly zoomed across us and over the lake. The lake itself was quiet for birds but we enjoyed seeing a dash of blue as a Kingfisher sped past us never to be seen again whilst a couple of Firecrest's showed briefly in the dense cover of the conifer trees. Near to the hide we spotted an interesting diving duck which looked good for a female Scaup , Rachel spotted the all white wing bar whilst I noted the rounded head, obvious white blaze around the bill , slightly larger size than the Tufted Duck next to it, smaller 'nail' on the end of the bill and the subtle grey vermiculations on the flanks. This is always a nice find in Cornwall so we were very pleased! Also I believe it was a new bird for Rachel ! ( although she is not so sure about watching ducks , she is warming to them!). A few more woodland birds were seen plus the aftermath of storm Brian had uprooted a very large tree which showed the power of the storm we had the other day. Apart from this it was just nice to be outside and to spend time with Rach as she is such nice company...

Common Darter- still out in this unseasonably warm weather

Female Scaup - subtly stunning ( note the neat nail on the tip of the bill , would be smaller if Lesser Scaup, head shape would also be more peaked)

Note the white wingbar , rounded head and prominent white blaze around the bill

I don't usually bother with Magpies! But they are always characters

This Pied Wagtail looked stunning in the good light

Red Admiral enjoying the sun

With time ticking we sped across to Dozmary Pool to see the Ring-necked Duck and I was amazed to spot a female Long-tailed Duck! A rare bird on Bodmin Moor ( my 3rd record on the moor, following a drake at Dozmary many years ago and a female type at Crowdy ten years ago.) as they tend to be seen in small numbers each year nearer on the coast rather than inland. Sadly it was time to head home as time was getting on but as usual a great afternoons birding!