Friday, 30 March 2012

Blooming Wonderful!

On Wednesday evening I headed, once again, in the beautiful sunshine to Kings Moss to see what was about and check on the feeding station. We will be starting to reduce feeding operations on site in the next two weeks and our mist netting activity up there will slow down as we switch to nest recording. Until then however, we will hopefully fit in a few sessions over the Easter holidays, starting with Saturday (weather permitting).

I have made some signs for Fir Tree Farm to help combat some of the issues that we have had with dog owners that continue to disobey signs asking for all dogs to be kept on a lead. I guess adults are like children, just bigger. If you tell them not to do something, they'll still do it. Steve suggested that instead of telling them not do something, why don't we tell them why they shouldn't do it? Being a teacher, it was quite embarrassing that this was Steve's suggestion and not me own. Anyhow, the information signs were duely made and handed over to Alan to be put up around the site.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Whilst the sunshine was still glorious, the temperature wasn't what it had been early in the week but it was still well above average. We had a period of weather like this in March last year, dry and warm, one of the consequences was that the reed beds on Rimrose were pretty dry and in that week we lost a quarter of Fulwood and half of Brook Vale to arson. As of yet, that hasn't happened at Brook Vale but I haven't had a chance to get to Fulwood, so thats on my 'To Do' list for tonight. Whilst fire is a useful regeneration tool in reed bed management, burning annually is not common-place and actually poses a problem, especially at Brook Vale where encroachment from Himalayan Balsam is steadily damaging the reed bed.

On Wednesday morning, The Mothership had texted to say she'd had a Willow Warbler outside the homestead and whilst walking between the pond and the pines at Kings Moss, I had my first of the year. The warbling song is always a welcome addition to the soundtrack of any walk heralding the arrival of another of our Phylloscopus warblers. A Chiffchaff was also very vocal by the pond, coming quite close overhead and it was clear to see that the individual was ringed - probably one from the weekend.

Yellowhammer Territory

There was big change in the amount of greenery up on the plantation, even in comparison to last Saturday. The Hawthorn in the hedge where we feed the Yellowhammer was greening up nicely and we disturbed four birds feeding on the freshly-ploughed field. Reed Bunting were also quite vocal and within five minutes of re-filling the feeders, the Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch were back and feeding confidently. Watching these birds squabbling over the best perch at the feeding station left me wondering when we will ring our first Sparrowhawk at Kings Moss, one had already escaped from the net by the pond.

Cowslip (Primula veris)

A total of three Buzzards were seen late on, the female Kestrel flew into the nest box and popping in at the farm, the Barn Owl was also in the nest box, although shifted from her usual position. Is she ready to lay?

Unfortunately, Moxey hasn't managed to get out this week as he's been extremely busy, putting in a few supply shifts and being the taxi driver for my little sister who is back from university for Easter. Tomorrow will be our last chance to post a total for our Top 10 for March......stay tuned!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunshine on Rimrose

On Sunday morning I headed to Brook Vale on my own, well, not exactly on my own, I did have Canela with me, but she isn't great at putting up nets and her extraction is terrible (she's scared of Great Tits). I managed to get four nets up in the dell and the feeding station and Cetti's net within the reserve. The change in times had clearly messed up my ability to think clearly, arriving in the dark I struggled to get the key to turn in the lock at the main gate, meaning I was unable to drive into the site and had to carry all of the gear in. It wasn't until Moxey arrived (once all the nets had been put up) that I realised I had been using the wrong key.

The ringing was relatively slow throughout the morning, the dell proving the most productive nets and it was good to get in and check out some of the other places that we will try and net later on in the spring. Although there was little action in the way of migrants, we did manage to pick up a few birds that we have been lacking in ringing sessions from earlier in the year such as Long-tailed Tit and Wren.

It was all a little too much for Canela
The view towards the dell.

Goldcrest -   1
Chiffchaff -   4
Wren -   4
L.T.Tit -   3   (1)
Blue Tit -   (1)
Great Tit -   1   (1)
Chaffinch -   1
Goldfinch -   4
Robin -   1   (1)
Dunnock -   (1)
Greenfinch -   2
Song Thrush -   1

TOTAL:   22   (5)

There were a number of butterflies around, including my first Green-veined White of the year and this Speckled Wood:

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Sun Shines on the Moss

I picked Charlie up at 4:15 this morning, meeting Steve at Kings Moss at 4:45 full of anticipation of a good session up at the plantation. We managed to get all of the nets up within the hour, just as dawn broke and the birds started to sing. We started with a dog-leg at the pond, especially for Chiffchaff, and the two feeding stations. By 6am, we were joined by Leah Williams, a trainee from the MRG, who was after an opportunity to ring with other ringers......and she chose us!

 Steve Tyrer - not a morning person

The first net round yielded a couple of Yellowhammer from the hedgerow and a variety of finches, but no significant numbers until we reached the pond, where three Chiffchaff were waiting along with a Reed Bunting. There was lots of bird song, Yellowhammers were giving it beans all around, as were the Robins, Song Thrushes, Skylarks and Wren with the occasional call of a Grey Partridge or Buzzard.

After the first net round, the catch rate picked up and remained steady throughout the morning.The fourth Chiffchaff presented with a tick above its eye, which I managed to delicately remove.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) with tick

The unusual capture of the morning was a colour-ringed Coal Tit that turned up at the hedgerow station. The juvenile bird had purple on the left and orange on the right but no BTO ring, which we found unusual, so we concluded that it had likely escaped from a collection. We added a BTO ring and took the decision not to remove the colour rings as to avoid the risk of harming the bird.

Coat Tit (Periparus ater)

The Yellowhammer continued to come at a steady pace, most being caught out in the field along the hedgerow, with the majority being male. So far we have ringed thirty three Yellowhammer at Kings Moss since we started ringing here in September 2011, twenty two of those have been caught in the last fortnight. We find it curious that so far we haven't caught a single retrap with the exception of two birds today that were ringed on the same day.

 Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

 Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

One of the more concerning aspects of our ringing session today was the number of Chaffinches that we had to release unringed due to the presence of the papilloma virus. The papilloma virus causes growths on the feet and legs making ringing impossible and unsafe - but interestingly, the birds seem to otherwise be in good health. We have caught birds with the condition at Crosby Hall recently and The Woodhams in the past however never in the frequency that we encountered today. In total eight different Chaffinches were released unringed and this suggests that there is a high incidence of the virus in the local population. This photo shows one of the worse cases we encountered today, but it doesn't compare to this case that the BTO brought to our attention in 2009.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

The birds weren't the only creatures with the power of flight that were active today. A large number of ladybirds were found pretty much anywhere you looked, including in the nets. As the air temperature warmed up the butterflies came out to play, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood amongst those that stayed still long enough to be identified.

Ladybird on the Moss

Plant life was also starting spring to life, the Blackthorn is now with flower, Willow is in leaf and Coltsfoot is starting to spring up everywhere. Spring is most definately here and finishing on over one hundred caught, I drive home with the windows down, the eyePod on the stereo and a great big smile on my face!

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Chiffchaff -  4
L.T.Tit -    (2)
Dunnock -   3   (2)
Reed Bunting -   2   (2)
Chaffinch -   13   (2)
Goldfinch -   14   (4)
Great Tit -   5   (6)
Yellowhammer -   13
Bullfinch -   (2)
Blue Tit -   4   (4)
Coal Tit -   2   (1)
Greenfinch -   14
Blackbird -   2

TOTAL:   76   (25)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sunset on the Moss

The glorious weather we had today was too difficult to ignore so I decided to head out to Kings Moss for a walk and a bit of a snoop with the binoculars. After not making it to Kings Moss on Sunday we are expecting to head there this weekend as recent observations have shown an increase in the numbers of finches and buntings using the feeding stations.

First port of call this evening was the hedgerow feeding station, the feeders freshly topped up by Paul this afternoon and even in the early evening sunshine, the hedgerow was a hive of activity. At least five Yellowhammer and three Reed Bunting were seen with others calling amongst a group of twentyish Chaffinch and about the same of Goldfinch. Stepping out into the field, a Buzzard called in the direction of Billinge Hill whilst a female Kestrel hovered over the set-aside.

From the hedgerow, I headed to the other feeding station where there was also significant activity mainly in the form of Goldfinches, about twenty flying off through the willows. A male Yellowhammer was also calling nearby as well as a solitary Bullfinch. From the feeding station I walked towards the pond where we sometimes net, checking three of our BOB boxes in the process - all were still in place, but unlike at Brook Vale, where two boxes have seen signs of early activity, there was nothing showing. Wandering towards the Tree Sparrow boxes, a Chiffchaff was singing from the tops of the Silver Birch.

Returning past the pond, I saw at least two 'crests flitting in the tops of the pines, a quick check with the binoculars revealed that they were of the gold variety rather than the more attractive combustible variety. Heading towards the top of the plantation, I had Sparrowhawk and two Jays whilst a quick check of Arthurs feeding station yielded just five Blue Tits.   

Heading back down to the car, the Sun was setting over Holiday Moss and whilst I was having a nosey at the pigs (getting ideas for the school farm I'm creating), Alan came over and asked me to come and see the Barn Owl. We headed into one of the exhibition areas and up popped the Owl, sitting in the box whilst we watched her on the box - through one of four security cameras that have been installed. It wont be too long before they are preparing to lay eggs!

Monday, 19 March 2012

...and here they come...

Sunday 18th March:
04:30 - Text messages between me and Steve confirming it was raining in St Helens as well as in Liverpool. Forecast checked, forecast rain until 9am. Nevertheless, we agreed to check back in an hour to see if the situation improved.
05:30 - Text message from Steve - still raining in St Helens, forecast saying rain until 9am, raining in Liverpool. Roll over and sleep.
08:00 - Text message from Steve - very sunny in St Helens, has been for a while. Bugger!!!
08:30 - Car packed, flask brewed and on route to Brook Vale hoping to salvage something from the day.

And salvage we did. Arriving as late as we did, we were only able to put up the line at the feeding station and a single 15m. From the outset there was at least two Chiffchaff calling, the first I have heard in song this spring, whilst there were a few Chaffinch and Greenfinch calling.

I had hoped to get some nets up in the dell, but the Sunday League football was well underway, limiting our discretion, but I have no doubt that if we had, we could have increased our totals of migrants. The Siskin flock was nowhere to be seen, but there were decent numbers of Greenfinch starting to use the feeders.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

The first net round at the feeding station yielded a retrap Reed Bunting from last spring, two Goldcrest and the first Blackcap of the year. It's likely that the Blackcap is an overwintering bird rather than an early migrant, however I decided to take measurements of the 8th primary, tail, bill and tarsus to comapare to some of the breeding birds that we catch in the summer.

Juvenile Female Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

The single 15m net was relatively productive despite the recent willow management that has opened up the net ride, bringing in two Goldcrest, a Chiffchaff and a Woodpigeon. By midday, the catch had tailed off so we decided to call it a day but as we were packing away, we caught a rare glimpse of a Water Rail in flight.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Goldcrest -   4
Chiffchaff -   2
Wren -   (2)
Great Tit -   3
Goldfinch -   3
Blackcap -   1
Blue Tit -   (1)
Robin -   (1)
Reed Bunting -   (1)
Greenfinch -   6   (1)
Woodpigeon -   1

TOTAL:   20   (6)

We're now off the mark for Rimrose in 2012 and for the time being, we have ringed more Goldcrest and Chiffchaff than Blue Tits - not sure how long that will last! One thing is for sure.....the migrants are coming!!!

Saturday, 17 March 2012


Well.....not exactly. Goldcrests to be more precise, but this mornings haul saw me and Moxey reminiscing of the mornings spent on the Riverside Trail at, the now defunct, Ausable Bird Observatory on the banks of Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada during which we could catch thirty or forty Ruby-crowned or Golden-crowned Kinglets, the North American members of the Regulus family. This morning we were targetting the 'crests specifically, with a two-pronged approach. John Dempsey reported earlier in the week that large numbers of Goldcrests were moving through the dunes to the north of us and Hilbre Bird Observatory, in the mouth of the River Dee, ringed a staggering number over the last couple of days. With this passage continuing, we chose the two sites we had our best chances at, Crosby Hall and the Woodhams.

I headed off for an early start at Crosby Hall, with more nets to deal with than Moxey would have I also had the feeding station in operation. By the time Moxey called in to pick up the nets and mp3 players, I had already caught and ringed five Goldcrest under the dull, overcast sky that all morning held the threat of rain.

 Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Moxey headed off to the Woodhams, less than a mile away, with a couple of nets and two mp3 players and it wasn't long before he was texting (yes, Moxey can text!) to say he had six Kinglets in one 9m net - awesome! I stuck at operations at Crosby Hall, moving a couple of nets around based on where I was observing the activity and the feeding station kept things ticking over nicely. By 11am, Moxey returned having ringed 8 Goldcrest.

 Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

 Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

A brief shower decended about midday, but quickly cleared and somehow, that was the only rain we would endure through the morning as there was dark grey cloud all around us. Chaffinches featured prominently this week at the feeding station, quite a contrast to the Goldfinch numbers with only two caught - a complete reverse of the previous week. A retrap Treecreeper and a new Nuthatch were moments of quality, but the day really belonged to the 'crests.

 Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

The Goldcrest were all in excellent condition, the lightest bird was 5.1g, but the majority were at least 6g and the heaviest came in at 6.5g with a fat score of 4 and a muscle score of 3. Impressive, a clear indication of birds on migration.

We wrapped the session up by half past one and I headed to Brook Vale to check the feeding station there. The majority of the Siskin flock has now moved on, but there was significant Greenfinch activity at the feeding station and a couple of Goldcrest were also heard. It wont be long before we will be starting to hear the warblers in song as they arrive back for the summer...

Crosby Hall

Goldcrest -   10   (1)
Wren -   1
Treecreeper -   (1)
L.T.Tit -   (1)
Chaffinch -  14   (3)
Blue Tit -   9   (7)
Great Tit -   2   (7)
Coal Tit -   1   (2)
Robin -    2
Goldfinch -   1   (1)
Dunnock -   (1)
Nuthatch -   1   (1)
Greenfinch -   7
Blackbird -   1

TOTAL:    49   (25)


Goldcrest -   8
Great Tit -   (1)

TOTAL:   8   (1)

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Barn Owls Burned

Last week at a meeting of the Liverpool Ornitholigist Club, Tony Duckells, the SWLRG Barn Owl Organiser, made me aware of this horrific discovery. The burned remains of six Barn Owls were found in an abandoned barn on Formby Moss, a Buzzard was also found, shot dead, within a mile of the site. You can read the article here.

Two of the birds were ringed and we are cooperating with the Wildlife Crime Officer of Merseyside Police to narrow down where these birds might have been taken from. This crime is particularly worrying because it suggests that the culprits of this horrendous crime have obviously visited a number of different roost sites in order to take as many as six birds - representing a significant portion of the adult population of the area.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Golden Time

Following Saturdays session at Crosby Hall, we headed to Kings Moss on Sunday, meeting Steve on site just before 6am. Now that the mornings are getting earlier and earlier, the optimism for Spring is also growing with talk of migrants - the mild weather we've had lately only serving to promote our prospects.

We have two feeding stations at Kings Moss, both feeding stations are located on the fringes of the plantation but offering different prospects. Feeding Station 1 incorporates the perimeter hedgerow and on a calm day, we are able to set lines of nets on either side of the hedgerow as well as a dog leg in the goat willow. This site is where we catch the majority of the Yellowhammer, Greenfinch and Chaffinch however the first net round today yielded the first Chiffchaff of the year in this spot.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Feeding Station 2 is located on the lowland fringe, close to the Highland Cattle field amongst the goat willow and hazel. This site is where we catch the majority of the titmice, although we did catch the first Yellowhammer in this spot during the session. Feeding Station 2 also picks up a decent number of Goldfinch, however, we're aware that the feeders haven't been topped up as regularly as we would have liked over the last two weeks, which is the likely explanation of our lower-than-average total for the session.

The main success story of the session was the Yellowhammer total, our largest single total at the site to date. The majority of the birds that we caught were males, some of which provided interesting discussion with regards to plumage details. Some of our observations of 'obvious' males highlighted a number of features not detailed in Svensson and whilst I'm not an expert on this species and there are many ringers more experienced with Yellowhammer than I, I've included a few comparative photo's here:

Adult Male (above), Juvenile Male (below)

Note the markings on the central undertail covert - the adult (above) has a more diffuse chestnut centre to the feather whereas the juvenile (below) has a much narrower black centre.

Adult Male Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

The rest of the ringing session was relatively sedate, with a steady trickle of birds, we were checking the nets much more frequently than normal, due to the number of individuals out and about. Alan and Edwina at Fir Tree Farm have done a fantastic job, with the help of a number of dedicated volunteers, in creating an ecologically valuable site. The site is open to members of the public to enjoy nature with a number of trails through the plantations and around the surrounding fields, the only stipulation is that all dogs are kept on a lead and all waste removed. Now as a (relucant) dog owner, I wouldn't dream of letting Canela off in an ecologically sensitive area - so whenever we encounter dog walkers with their dogs off the lead at Kings Moss, we politely to ask them to put their dog on a lead and explain what we are doing. Yesterday however, me and Steve were met with a degree of hostility from one individual - a relatively disappointing experience, but we didn't let it get us down.

Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus)

The last bird of the day was a Greenfinch control, ring number TJ67406, most likely one of Pete Alkers birds, but we shall wait and see. Onwards we march....

Dunnock -   2   (3)
Goldfinch -   6   (1)
Blue Tit -   5   (4)
Chaffinch -   (1)
Great Tit -   3   (1)
Greenfinch -   2   (1)
Blackbird -   1
Yellowhammer -   9
L.T.Tit -   2
Chiffchaff -  1
Coal Tit -   2
Robin -   2

TOTAL:   35   (11)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Amongst the Clouds of Pollen...

I met Charlie bright and early this morning at Crosby Hall for another session in the woods. We had a brief and relatively unsuccessful session last week, cut short by incoming rain squalls, so we were hoping for am improvement this week. John Dempsey posted earlier in the week about Chiffchaff singing on Rimrose so we had our ears peeled from the outset for any early passage birds moving through. No joy however.

Sticking with the usual nets, we had all the nets up within the first hour but we got off to a slow start. Blue Tit, Coal Tit and couple of retrap Goldcrest making up the early numbers. There were a number of Song Thrush calling throughout the morning, although none made their presence felt, along with a couple of Blackbirds, once more however, we had a low turnout of thrushes with only one retrap Blackbird, originally ringed in 2009.

 Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

A short five minutes of drizzle left us briefly worried for the future of the session, but it quickly passed and the Sun emerged leaving a very spring like feel. Conversation wandered to the potential of spring, the possibilities of early migrants and the plethora of opportunities that our variety of sites might offer. Daydreaming over, the Goldfinches started to arrive, as did a retrap Nuthatch, a male originally ringed in 2009.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

By midday, we were basking in the balmy sunshine getting sprinkled with pollen from the Yew trees - Charlie looked like the before shot from a Head and Shoulders (other leading brands are available) commercial. By the time that we packed away, we had added a retrap Treecreeper, a couple more Goldcrest and a few more Goldfinches to the total.

Goldcrest -   2   (2)
Wren -   1
Treecreeper -   (1)
L.T.Tit -    (2)
Coal Tit -   (1)
Goldfinch -   11
Chaffinch -   2
Blue Tit -   11   (10)
Great Tit -   2    (4)
Robin -   3   (3)
Greenfinch -   2
Nuthatch -   (1)
Blackbird -   (1)

TOTAL:   34   (25)

Later on this afternoon, I headed in to Brook Vale to start the feeding station up again. The Rangers had been into the reserve and had completed some management work on the marginal willows as part of the ongoing work to manage the willow carr and preserve the wetland. Hopefully some more of the isolated willows within the reed bed will be removed over the coming week or so. As I was leaving, a flock of thirty-odd Siskin were perched in the Alders near Beach Road but that was about all that was about.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Top Ten so far...

In a blatant rip-off of Seumus' Fleetwood Birder blog, I have compiled the top ten species ringed so far this year by myself and Moxey. As a duo, with associated trainees Dumb and Dumber....sorry....Charlie and Steve, we had a disappointing finish to 2011, largely due to weather hampering efforts. However, the start to 2012 has been somewhat more promising with almost six hundred birds ringed so far leaving us just a few birds short of the Fylde RG's current total. It's interesting to compare ourselves to our neighbours further north on the Fylde. Despite our close proximity, weather conditions can often be completely different and we both similar sites - farmland, coastal and scrub - as well as netting on moss woodlands.

1. Blue Tit (213)
2. Chaffinch (83)
3. Goldfinch (80)
4. Great Tit (52)
5. Robin (31)
6. Greenfinch (28)
7. Dunnock (16)
8. Coal Tit (15)
9. Goldcrest (11)
10. Yellowhammer (10)

TOTAL: 595

Our current total is dominated by Blue Tits, as usual, but the totals of Chaffinch and Goldfinch, largely caught at Kings Moss, are promising. Whilst we haven't caught large numbers of Yellowhammer in the past, unlike the Yellowhammer specialists in South Notts RG, we are starting to catch them regularly at Kings Moss. Hopefully this species will continue to occupy a space in our top ten however, once the migrants start to return from southern Europe and Africa, I fear it might be bumped off the bottom!

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

BOB on at Rimrose

On Friday I headed straight from school to another school, Savio High School in Bootle, to pick up a consignment of BOB boxes. The BOB boxes are a multi-use (Bird Or Bat) nest box, designed by Steve Burrowes and manufactured by the students at Savio. Savio have kindly donated thirty boxes to Rimrose Ringers to use on Rimrose Valley.

Last year, Savio won an Observer Ethical Award for Kids for the design of the box, highlighted by a successful project in Knowlsey Safari Park. This video features an interview with Steve, the students and some of the judges:

This weekend we got started on putting up the boxes. In the first instance, we have erected nineteen bat boxes, and eleven bird boxes as part of the pilot. We are hoping that Savio will be able to secure funding to be able to provide more boxes for next year so that we can grow the project outside of the pilot areas (Fulwood and Brook Vale).

Scouse Ringer and Box 5

Moxey showing off a BOB box set for bats

 BOB box set for birds

BOB box set for bats

The bat boxes will be monitored by members of the local bat group, under licence, and we will monitor the bird boxes. A massive thanks go to Savio for all of their hard work on the boxes, hopefully this will be the start of a successful and fruitful partnership!

The BOB boxes retail for £10 with £2 of each sale being donated to the Bat Conservation Trust and the rest being reinvested into the project. The boxes are also available in flat-pack and are easily assembled. Comment on this post if you are interested in purchasing boxes.