Tag Archive | bird ringing

Autumn birds

We have had a good autumn for birds in the garden. Meadow pipits have been calling in as they migrate past, as have chiffchaffs, and blackcaps. Migrating blackbirds and chaffinches have also been feeding up in the garden, and are distinguishable from our local birds by their larger size. Generally, birds from colder climates are larger than birds from warmer climates. We can tell their size as we measure them when we catch them in mist-nets as part of our garden bird ringing program, which increases our knowledge if the birds are recaptured elsewhere.

Our best migrant has to be a firecrest, which, along with the more common goldcrest, is our smallest warbler. Unlike the goldcrest which is a resident all across the UK, breeding here and staying all year, the firecrest only breeds in mainland Europe and the South East of England, and is a winter visitor to the South West. They are not that common anywhere, really, and not easy to see due to their small size.

 

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The firecrest on the left has a white face with black round the eye, and lovely yellow/green shoulders, compared to the duller goldcrest on the right. Both have a black and yellow stripe on the head, which in the males will have an orange centre. I think they are delightful little birds, and I was very pleased we caught it, as we hadn’t seen it in the garden. And to double the pleasure, we caught a second one the next day!

 

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The winter thrushes are arriving in force, and we are catching a lot of redwings. These are our smallest thrush, with a creamy stripe above the eye, and a rusty red patch on the flank and under the wing.

 

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Another interesting thrush is the mistle thrush – much larger and greyer compared to the more usually seen song thrush. It has a very upright stance, and seems pale and spotty from a distance.

 

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Interestingly, although common, these are rarely caught in mist-nets, and only two adult birds were ringed in the whole of Devon last year. We have caught two ourselves this year, and are pleased to be able to add to the pool of knowledge about this bird. After all, that’s what it is all about, not just an opportunity to see these gorgeous birds close up!

Finding Fluffy Chicks

Last week we went over the border into Cornwall. We went out to Looe island on a boat, which takes about 15 minutes. The island is a nature reserve owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and you can visit it and have a walk around.

 

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We were there to help out and old friend. He studies the Great Black-backed Gulls that breed on Looe island by finding and ringing the chicks every year.

 

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We searched the two areas of the island where the gulls breed, looking for the chicks, which sit quietly under the grass and leaves. The small ones were just cute bundles of grey fluff, and were very docile.

 

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As they grow, they lose the baby fluff and grow their first set of proper feathers. These two were much bigger, but still sat quietly together under the foliage, hoping not to be spotted!

 

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Having found them, a trained ringer carefully attached a metal ring around one leg, and a bright white plastic ring, which has large coloured numbers and letters, on the other leg. This unique code can be read through binoculars or a powerful camera lens, so that anyone spotting the gull in the future can report the code, and a record is built up of the gulls’ movements.

Once ringed, we replaced the chicks exactly where we found them, tucking them up under the leaves, where they nestled down safely awaiting the return of their parents with their next meal.

It was fun finding and handling such lovely birds, and satisfying knowing you have contributed to some useful scientific research. We ringed 36, and many more had been ringed the week before.

 

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Then it was time to get the boat back across to Looe Harbour, and home.

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A summer visitor

As I have mentioned before, here and here, my other half is a bird ringer, and he is trapping and ringing birds which come into the garden. Ringing birds and then re-catching them helps us to understand what is happening to birds in the places they live and how this affects population increases and decreases. It also gives information on the movements individual birds make and how long they live for. I used to be a ringer too, and although I no longer have a permit, I still help out.

 

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This smart little bird has just made our week! He is a male pied flycatcher, which come here in the summer to breed, and are only found in the western half of the country. We didn’t see them in Hertfordshire, so it is a real treat to have them visiting our new garden!

A local celebrity and some garden visitors

All avian, of course…

There has been a rare Glossy ibis on the flooded fields we pass on the way to the supermarket. He is one of a small number found in the UK each winter, and will soon be off to sunny Spain to breed. The coast path runs right past him, and he is a bit of a local celebrity, having been photographed many times, appearing on facebook almost every day. Taken in sunshine, those photos show the oily gleam of green and purple in his plumage. My picture…well, at least I got one, and even with a mallard for size comparison.

 

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He was, very obligingly, right in my corner of the field, feeding incessantly. He probed the sloppy mud with a slightly open bill, and when he found a worm he grabbed it, and gave it a quick rinse in the nearest tiny puddle of muddy water, before sucking it up like spaghetti.

Nearby is a small duckpond, a pleasant place to spend a few minutes.

 

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We have have had two more winter specialities in the garden, which is really exciting. We caught them as part of our garden bird ringing program, which increases our knowledge if the birds are retrapped elsewhere.

 

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This is a male Brambling – isn’t he pretty? They are often found in big flocks in the winter, but we have just had the one, feeding below the feeders with the chaffinches. It was lovely to catch him for a closer look. He will be going North later in the Spring to breed in Siberia or Scandinavia – wouldn’t it be interesting if he was recaptured there, so we found out where he went?

 

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This tiny finch is a Lesser Redpoll, who is a fairly ordinary streaky brown, apart from its little forehead patch of deep red. They do breed in this country, but are much easier to see in the winter….especially when they land in your net! We hadn’t seen one in the garden until we caught it. It is great to see such a variety of birds in the garden – a real contrast to our handkerchief sized garden in Hertfordshire. I can’t wait to see what we get when the Spring migration starts.

Birds in close-up

My other half is a bird ringer, and he is trapping and ringing birds which come to our bird feeders in the garden. Ringing birds and then re-catching them helps us to understand what is happening to birds in the places they live and how this affects population increases and decreases. It also gives information on the movements individual birds make and how long they live for. I used to be a ringer too, and although I no longer have a permit, I still help out.

 

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We catch blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, thrushes, chaffinches, greenfinches, and a few others. Below are a few of my favourites, starting with the goldfinch. We catch a lot of these!

 

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We catch a fair few siskin, a delicate little bird that is rarely seen in most gardens, but will come in to feeders in the middle of winter.

 

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Nuthatches come in occasionally, grab a seed and fly straight off, so you have to be quick to see them on the feeders.

 

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Occasionally a sparrowhawk will swoop through the garden, and all the birds scarper immediately! And last week, the male just happened to swoop straight into our net, which is a first for this garden. Isn’t he super?

 

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This is what it is all about!

Today the sun shone between scudding clouds, and we took some time off from ‘moving in’, and had some fun. My husband is a bird ringer, and has been hoping to be able to catch and ring birds in the garden, as his own little study site. But we couldn’t know how many birds there would be until we got here. Answer – plenty! We put up bird feeders yesterday, and within a couple of hours there were birds zipping everywhere. So this morning he set up his nets and caught over 40 birds in two hours, which is excellent. Our garden study site is up and running.

Our daughter is visiting, and the two of us went out to see some of the local scenery. A ten minute drive from our house brought us to Woolacombe beach. In summer it is busy with families and surfers, but today it was bare and beautiful.

 

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Watching and listening to the waves crashing onto the rocks is extremely therapeutic.

 

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We then walked out onto the headland to the North of the beach – Morte Point. It was a bit blustery, but perfect for a first walk along the coast. There will be many more.

 

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To finish off our lovely day, we picked up some clotted cream in the local shop, and I whipped up a batch of scones. Our first Devon cream tea. Perfect.