Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Dazzled by Woodcock

This is not my first Woodcock of the season but my first ever Woodcock thanks to Paddy Jenks of the Pembrokeshire Ringing Group. This time of year, being the start of the Woodcock season I was keen to understand how they are are caught. After chatting to Paddy at the Pembrokshire bird conference last week end he kindly offered to take me out dazzling one evening to one of his sites in the county, to show me how it is done and how to use the fisherman's landing net . 

The conditions were was not ideal because there was no wind, no rain, no cloud cover which all increased the risk of the Woodcock knowing we were there. Although Paddy expected us to see birds he also expected them to be be a bit jittery and the chance to actually catch one would be slim.

In the end we spotted twenty birds. Three of them we nearly caught, but they spotted the net as it got close to them and they managed to fly off. Sixteen lifted off the ground and flew away before we got close to them, but, this bird we got lucky with. So out of twenty birds we caught one. Paddy said, in ideal dazzling circumstances when the odds were stacked in our favour instead of the birds we may have caught 12 or 13 of the birds we had seen.

The bird was ringed and then we had to age and sex it. The wing feather clearly tells us this bird is a juvenile. The main characteristics are:-

  • There was abrasion to the tips of the primaries giving uneven profile. Adults have very little wear.
  • The inner 3 or 4 primaries had rounded tips. The adult bird has a more flattened tip with a step between the inner and outer webs.
  • The primary covert had rounded tips and the terminal tip colour being the same as the rest of the feather. In the adult the tip of the feather is flattened and its colour is paler going towards grey/white
  • The underwing secondary coverts have a pointed tip and there are some signs of barring. In the adult bird the feather is again flat tipped and barring is more distinct.

So this was my first bird aged 3. Sexing is more difficult, plumage is the same but there is a large overlap in measurements. The male tends to have a longer tail and shorter bill so the tail/bill length can also be used, again there can be overlap. No conclusion made to the sex yet but if analysis of the results are proven for one sex or the other I will update the blog.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Garden Ringing

Had a session in the garden this morning, put a 40ft net up by my ringing shed for 07.30am. Had a cup of tea and went to do the first round. Got to the net and thought OMG, it had to happen to me sometime, it was full of birds, a lone ringers nightmare. A quick count came to 35. I used my 20 bags I had on me but had to go back to the house to unload the birds and took another 25 bags back with me. As I was extracting the other birds new ones were coming in behind me even though I had cleared the top shelf and bottom shelf and closed them up. In the end I extracted 45 birds.

Whilst it is an experience you do not need regularly, it was an experience nevertheless that was worth having. I felt I coped well with the situation and all birds were processed without any trouble.

A lot of the birds in the net were Blue tits but there were some nice ones as well. Where I live in South West Wales there seems to be a nucleus of Marsh tits. I am currently trying to assess there numbers and have had discussions with the BTO to see if the population numbers are high enough to consider the possibility of starting a RAS. See link for further information. 

RAS, Retrapping birds for Survival is a national scheme where the ringer aims annually to catch 50 adult birds of the designated species during the breeding season. This will give us an indication of the survival rates of these adults

This Marsh tit is the first I have ringed for a while which was a little worrying because for a couple of months now numbers coming to feeders had reduced. I also caught a retrap last week a bird originally ringed by me last winter

Once the net was up this morning I played the Goldcrest call on my MP3 which brought two birds to the net.

This bird is a male The crown patch is yellow which often conceals the bright orange feathers of the male as in this case and on the top picture some of the bright orange feathers can be seen. Ageing is primarily done by assessing the shape of the 4th and 6th tales feathers. In this bird the tail feathers were neither rounded or pointed so I aged it as a 2.

Another bird, the Goldfinch has started to appear again on my feeders after none during the summer months. They seem to prefer the nijer seed at the moment but can be a little fickle and change to sunflower hearts and occasionally peanuts.

Quite easy to sex, this one being a male because the red goes slightly behind the eye. The female does not. Also it has black nasal hairs whereas the female has grey ones. On some adult males, tale feathers 4, 5 and 6 each have a white spot. 5th and 6th tail feathers are useful for ageing, the adult having more rounded feathers compared with pointed ones of a juvenile bird. Comparion of the outermost three greater coverts can also indicate the age of the bird. The tips of the GC's on the adult being predominately yellow whilst juveniles the colour is a buffish white or white colour.

The breakdown of birds caught today are:-
Blue tit 28 new, 1 retrap
Great tit 6 new, 1 retrap
Chaffinch 2 new
House Sparrow 1 new
Goldcrest 2 new
Goldfinch 2 new
Marsh tit 1 new
Dunnock 1 new
Robin 1 new