Thursday, 30 June 2011

6 months in the life of a Trainee

I have now completed 6 months of ringing training and all I can say is 'What an amazing 6 months!'.
Since January 29th, I have ringed 781 new birds of 65 species (processed 844 birds of 66 species (I've not yet actually ringed Mute Swan despite 17 retraps!))
Oh the species I have ringed, a few stick out in my mind as being species that I never thought I'd ever ring!
Little Egret
Dunlin (A personal favourite of mine)
In addition to the unexpected birds, I have added to the experience of ringing by visiting some rather unusual ringing locations
26th March saw Chris and I cannon-netting gulls on a Landfill site catching 138 birds. Everything about this location was surreal including the bouncy floor that made running to the net a somewhat comical experience!
Catching 31 Pied Wagtails outside the entrance of Tesco car park in Bangor was also very surreal as it was still rather busy with the petrol station still being open and car passing by all the time.

The Tubenose Challenge hasn't really had the kick start it needs yet, so it was an apt way to finish the six months with a trip to catch Manx Shearwater and European Storm-petrel. This went down as the best ringing session of the lot as Manx Shearwater has been a species close to my heart pretty much since I read my first bird book back in 1998.
European Storm-petrel and Manx Shearwater were the 2nd and 3rd species to be photographed for the Tubenose Challenge after we retrapped an adult Fulmar on our first trip to Puffin Island. This is another species that I adore and can't believe how lucky I am to have held such a superb bird!
I think it would be unfair to not give a few thanks to people for helping me in my first 6 months. A big thanks for Steve Dodd and Rachel Taylor for being my official trainers when I am ringing in North Wales. I doubt I would be where I am now without your help. Kane Brides is my adopted trainer for when I venture into the North West. I certainly wouldn't be where I am today in terms of progression with ringing if it wasn't for Kane as he has the advantage of being my mate as well as my part-time trainer so he knows where I am struggling and how to overcome any problems I may have. I have also met many other people that have provided me with memories that will last a lifetime
No thank you would be complete without thanking Chris 'the birdman' Bridge who pushed me to start ringing in the first place and has introduced me to some superb people who will only be assets to know in future life.
...Lets hope for a similarly incredible 6 months when I get to a year into my training!

My Greatest Blog Post to Date! - 29th/30th June 2011

Today (29th June 2011), I have been training to ring birds for exactly 6 months. What a way to mark this mini milestone by joining Kieran Foster to ring Storm-petrel and Manx Shearwater off Anglesey!
Kane, Chris, Kieran and I arrived at 21.45 and set up 2 nets. One for Stormies and one for Manxies. The latter being slightly higher up and slightly in land. We waited until it was fully dark before checking the nets, which didnt come until almost 11.45pm! A couple of net rounds later and Kieran returned presenting Kane with the first bird of the night, European Storm-petrel!
This was a stunning bird, so delicate and placid. What made the bird even better was when it started shaking and making an enchanting purring noise along with the occasional chirrup. Storm-petrel hold somewhat of a party piece in that they smell naturally of perfume! Such a lovely smell that is still lingering on my clothes! It was a while later until we caught our 2nd stormie at c01.15 which was handed to Chris to ring. This bird was even better as it was 'singing' in the net when we went to extract it!
As we were extracting the Storm-petrel from the net, Manx Shearwater were going mental offshore and even onshore calling frantically and whizzing right over our heads, We opened the 2nd net and it was literally a matter of moments before we could see a dark blog land in the net against the milky darkness of the summer sky. We ran over to extract the bird, shortly followed by 2 more.
For me, this was even better than the Stormies (perhaps because I didn't get to ring a Stormie?) I can honestly say this was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had whilst bird watching. To be sat on a cliff in the North West of Britain and to be able to hear Manx Shearwaters calling all around you and then get to hold and ring some what just incredible!
Looking at photos however, their 'faces' give them an almost placid look, however I can honestly say that these are more of a handful than almost anything else I've had the pleasure of ringing! They kick and bite like a Coot or Razorbill. Incredible!
We caught 7 Manxies in the end and Kieran was planning on ringing this until he suddenly caught sight of a ring. It was a controlled bird, and one we are certainly eager to find out where it was ringed. The first Manxie control that Kieran has had to date.

As many of you will be aware, I have set myself a challenge to see all the Tubenose species in the world. I have said that I would try to photograph every species in order to 'prove' the ID of the birds we see. It was really difficult to photograph the birds in the darkness of last night, without causing too much stress from flash, so I only managed plumage shots of Storm-petrel.
The photos above and below however show a couple of distinguishing features of European Storm-petrel.
Above - The rounded square tail and small round rump
Below - Dark vent, Round tail, white side to rump and most important, the white bar on the underwing which pretty much distinguishes European Storm from any other species.
A truly incredible night and my best ringing and probably birding experience to date. A massive thanks to Kieran for the invite and the knowledge provided on the night and to Kane for doing all the driving! Incredible!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Blitz - Brockholes NR LWT - 25th June 2011

25th June 2011 is Bioblitz where a site is covered as much as possible to try to obtain as many species of organisms as possible. For Brockholes NR LWT, this started on the evening of the 24th at 22.30pm where Kane and I joined Bill Aspin, David and Jim Beattie to set up 3 moth traps. After the setting of the traps, Bill, Kane and I walked around the site with Bill's flash light trying to see any nocturnal species. It wasn't long before we got our first reflecting eyes in the form of a Tawny Owl which was sat on a post to the south of Boilton Marsh. This is the first visual site record for me. In addition to this, we saw a 'nocturnal' Little Ringed Plover as well as a Roe Deer and a Hedgehog (my first for the year!) We left the site at 00.30 after a decent catch up.

I arrived back on site this morning at 05.25 in drizzle trying to count roosting wildfowl on the islands, and hopefully check any of the Coot for rings! Complete species count as follows:
9 Mute Swan, 6 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Little Grebe, 138 Canada Goose, 1 Barnacle Goose, 127 Coot, 12 Moorhen, 37 Mallard, 4 Gadwall (2 juv), 3 Tufted Duck, 1 fem Goosander, 4 Cormorant, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 11 adult LRP, 3 Ringed Plover, 7 Oystercatcher (2 juv), 19 Lapwing, 3 Common Redshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 18 Black-headed Gull (1 juv), 1 Common Tern (on Ribble nr Redscar 08.50), 2 Collared Dove, 8 Woodpigeon, 2 Stock Dove, 14 Feral Pigeon, 1 Barn Owl, Cuckoo, 1 Kingfisher, 150+ Sand Martin, 5 House Martin, 10+ Swallow, 3 male Skylark, 4 Pied Wagtail, 30+ Swift, 2 Dunnock, 3 Whitethroat, 1 juv Garden Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 6 Sedge Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 14 Blue Tit, 8 Great Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Wren, 3 House Sparrow (across river), 8 Tree Sparrow (over), 8 Magpie, 1 Jackdaw, 10 Carrion Crow, 4 Linnet, 2 Goldfinch, 11 Reed Bunting.

The Cuckoo is a first for the site personally and with less than 10 records since 10th August 1998, this is a very difficult species to connect with. With confirmed decreases in the British population, I was starting to think I have missed my opportunity to see this species. This is the third sighting this year with one seen on the 23rd in the same place, so presumably the same bird. In addition James Walsh saw a bird on the 31st May, which presumably is a different bird?

When Bill, Jim and David arrived, we started examining the moth traps. It took us all a while to pick up 2 stunning Eyed Hawkmoth that were resting outside of the main trap which was a first for me and the first to be caught on site. Other species caught overnight included Dark Arches, Light Arches, Cinnabar, Buff Ermine, Snout among several other species that have already eluded my need a good memory when it comes to mothing!

Before I left the site at 09.35, I helped to check the small mammal traps with the Lancs Mammal Group where we caught a Wood Mouse, Bank Vole and a feisty Common Shrew which were all rather delightful to see up close. As a left, the local botany 'expert' was starting his survey so hopefully Brockholes will come out as being one of the most diverse sites in Lancashire.

It already has my vote as being one of the best sites in Lancs....

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Twitching a Coot! - Brockholes NR LWT, Lancashire - 22nd June 2011

(Photo: John Wright)
Either I have gone completely mad after my first year of University, or I have Ringers blood flowing through my veins. It's not every day that you get excited about a 26km Coot movement!
On the longest day, 21st June 2011, John Wright posted a picture of a colour-ringed Coot on the Brockholes Facebook page. This is one of the birds ringed as part of Kane Brides' North West Coot study. This is the first colour-ringed Coot to turn up at Brockholes, so I was eager to see it!

Recapture History

number Typ Date Init Details


GR24371 N 3F 28/09/10 CMB Stanley Park, Blackpool

5 Resighted 04/02/11 PB Stanley Park, Blackpool

5 Resighted 21/06/11 JW Brockholes Quarry, Preston, Lancashire (26 km, ESE, 266 days)

I decided to walk to the quarry after a Bacon sandwich and was on site just after 12.30. I set up shop in the motorway hide scanning the wildfowl on No1 pit. There was at least 100 Coot present in a reasonably tight flock on the northern side of No1 in the water (therefore the legs weren't visible). The flock started moving towards the bank and 4 birds started getting out of the water and standing on a spit. A fifth bird joined and I caught a flash of Green followed by a flash of Orange. It was the bird! What are the chances that it would be one of the five birds? [1/20 chance for any smart alecks out there ;)]
This may be the first colour-ringed Coot to be seen at Brockholes, but it is not the first of Kane's Coots to be seen as Bill Aspin read the metal ring GC64146 on 1st April 2009 45km from its ringing site in Fallowfield, Manchester.
After the initial 'excitement' of the Coot, I had a wander around and a slightly sombre mood came over my following sightings. I found a freshly dead Mole, which although was interesting to see up close, it wasn't how I would like to have seen this species if I'm honest.
In addition, I thought I would make the effort to go and check out the work of the local Vandals. It really is upsetting and disgusting to see how easily these rather impressive hides can be reduced to ask and oxidised metal. In terms of comfort, I would love similar hides to replace it, but for convenience, I think a container hide would be the most sustainable option until the offenders grow up!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

'Kraving' more Black-heads - Killington, Cumbria - 20th June 2011

above and below - Black-headed Gull catching (photos by Gillian Dinsmore)
A follow up trip to the Killington Black-headed Gull colony with Kane, Chris and Gillian Dinsmore (whose first time it was catching Black-heads). We caught a further 128 chicks which has again helped to boost my totals for my training.
After this, we had a quick wash and change of dirty clothes (as well as a dry off in the case of Mr. Chris Bridge whom fell in whilst catching a wayward Black-head in the that's commitment to ringing!) we totted up the totals from this years two visits. Finding out that we had ringed 598 birds, we were left slightly unsettled so Gillian and myself set up camp in the front of her car where we set out trying to catch a few adults. Using Krave breakfast cereal as bait (hence the title) we lured the birds back in. I never thought it would take so long to catch two birds, but I managed to grab two stunning adults. They really are beautiful birds as adults and I can't wait for the winter months to be able to (hopefully) catch lots of these overlooked beauties.
It's not all catching and ringing birds when I go out these days. I was lucky enough to spot this Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in the juncus which is the first Fritillary species I have seen in the UK. They really are beautiful organisms, and make me gasp every time I catch my first glimpse of them.

Yorkshire bird seen from Lancashire - 19th June 2011

Common Crane
After completing a 16 mile sponsored walk with my dad in York, we decided to pull into Paythorne, East Lancashire to have a look at the Common Crane.
During the walk, I decided to travel light by only taking my Canon 40D and Sigma 10-20mm lens. Not exactly the perfect equipment to take photos of a bird!
Arriving on site at c20.00, I noticed a figure standing in the middle of a field from the crossroads. Due to the size of the 'figure' in my periphery, I initially thought it might be a photographer or a farmer but it was in fact the crane! What a huge bird! I have seen this species close up in Zoos and also a distant flock in Spain in 2008, but it was amazing to see the birds size in the wild.
The bird was 30 yards into Yorkshire soil, but it was visible from Lancashire, so counts on my Lancs list...doesn't it?
The above photo is with my dad's 70mm camera, so it is shows off how close the bird was and also how brilliant my photos could have been with my 400mm!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Access All Areas WWT - 16th June 2011

juvenile Barn Owl
Juvenile Collared Dove
Chris and I joined Kane at Martin Mere WWT today to help finish off the last few nest boxes of the Tree Sparrow's 2nd broods. Martin Mere has had a very impressive 72 breeding pairs in nest boxes this year and a handful are already on the 3rd clutch. A couple of bonus birds were Swallow pulli which breed around the reserve buildings. We caught 3 Moorhen by hand aswell as a brood of 2 Collared Dove which was a new bird for me and was impressed by how big the chicks were and how incredibly small the nest was!
A real treat to end the day was a trip into the heart of the reserve with Chris Tomlinson (The Reserve Manager), Kane and Chris to ring a brood of Barn Owl. Last year Martin Mere ringed 9 young Barn Owl. The brood today was only 1 bird which is quite worrying after such a cold winter...Even with this worry at the back of our minds, the owl was passed to me and a smile was instantly put on my face. These really are lovely birds to hold as they are essentially a large ball of wool with claws! A huge thankyou to Kane for having a Schedule 1 license in order to 'disturb' the nest of this enigmatic species. An absolute joy to ring!

A glimpse into the future! - 15th June 2011

Kane, Chris and I were planning on having a follow up trip to Killington to finish off the Black-headed Gulls. The new darvics had not yet arrived from Poland, so we thought we would wait until next week. I noticed that an impressive post-brood flock of 38 House Sparrow had been visiting my garden for a couple of days. As a result I suggested to Kane that would could try and catch a few to pass the time. It wasn't long before a 40ft mist-net was errected for the first time at No.6!
There have only ever been 5 or 6 Bullfinch in my garden, so I was amazed when a stunning adult male appeared in the net after an hour of starting! We also managed to catch 5 House Sparrow, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Dunnock and a Blackbird.

Not a huge catch, but a really enjoyable session and one that I really can't wait to repeat in a couple of years if/when I get my C permit. Thanks to Kane for supplying the net, knowledge and rings.

Friday, 10 June 2011

3rd amazing day in a row - 10th June 2011

We woke up nice and early to head to Pickmere, Cheshire to head round the reed bed ringing the Reed Warbler Pulli. We checked 43 nests and managed to ring 30 birds. It's amazing to be able to see the intricacy of the nests in person.
There we various stages of nests with both eggs, young chicks, chicks that are ready to fledge as well as empty nests and nests being rebuilt.
After a lovely pub lunch to have a quick ready after finishing the warbler pulli, we headed to Shakerley where Kane caught a stunning Lapwing chick which was a joy to ring! By the time we finished this, it was getting close to 5pm which is when a local open coal mine was finishing for the day, which meant we were allowed to enter to ring a Kestrel brood that were ready for ringing

I have only ringed Tawny Owl chicks before, so this was only my second bird of prey in the hand. There was a brood of 5, all of which Kane and Chris allowed me to ring. Another species that were a joy to ring, even if they do make a bit of a racket!
We ended to day netting at Shakerley where we caught 2 Grasshopper Warbler. We caught a juvenile which was a retrap aswell as a new adult male and 2 Common Whitethroat which were all new birds for me and very interesting to see in the hand, particularly Whitethroat as they are surprisingly big. Grasshopper Warbler is one of my favourite warbler species and one I have never really been able to get great views of. To be able to see 2 birds in the hand was a real treat!
juvenile Grasshopper Warbler
adult male Grasshopper Warbler

2cy male Common Whitethroat

adult female Common Whitethroat

Ending the 3 days with 2 wonderful species of warbler was the perfect way to end 3 awesome days with two of my best mates. Lets hope my ringing training can provide many more 'breaks' like this one. Cheers guys!
I have finished my first year of Uni now, so will be back to see the family tomorrow and be back birding in Lancashire!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Martin Mere boxes - 9th June 2011

Day 2 of the June pullus ringing trip with Kane and Chris and we checked all of the Tree Sparrow nest boxes at Martin Mere. 101 boxes were checked and 100 pulli were ringed. Each brood differed in size ranging from naked and blind to birds ready to fledge. Colour-ringing took a little bit of a time but it was all very fun!

I got to ring 3 new species today as well which included a young Stock Dove in the nest, an adult Moorhen (which was a bit of a handful!) and finally a brood of 4 Swallow which were the last birds of the day. Superb!

Kane caught 2 Moorhen for Chris and I to ring as we had never done them before so Kane was keen to show us how the Coot's smaller cousin can be just as feisty! In addition, Kane couldn't pass up the opportunity to catch a very obliging 1cy Coot.

Black-head catch at Killington - Cumbria - 8th June 2011

I joined Kane Brides, Chris Bridge, Steve Christmas and Aidan (from Yorkshire) at Killington Resevoir to catch the Black-headed Gull chicks. This is an annual catch that has taken place since 2009. We arrived an hour or so early, so we stopped in Killington services where we hand caught 4 adult Black-heads (inc. one of my own, which was my first BHG!) using breakfast cereal as 'bait'! One of the main reasons for the 2011 visit was to colour-ring the birds as part of Kane and Ciaran's North West BHG study. We colour-ringed the 4 adults which left 80 rings left to use as a sample when we got into the colony.
This was my first visit to the colony and I was not expecting to ring so many birds! Between the 5 of us, we ringed 477 birds in 2 hours, which is incredible! It was an incredibly enjoying, albeit tiring, trip which was rounded off by catching another adult at the services to 'show off' our catching technique to Aiden whom had never previously ringed adult Black-headed Gulls.

(thanks to Kane for letting me us his photos from the day. I didn't fancy getting my camera wet on the crossing to the island!)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

White-throated Robin... - Hartlepool - 7th June 2011

When news came out yesterday that a White-throated Robin had been caught and ringed at Hartlepool Headland and released at the Bowling Green, I was on Puffin Island at the time and strangely wasn't in the slightest bit bothered about going to see it. I think this was down to a couple of things: 1. I was in ringing mode, on one of the nicest places in Britain so wasn't up for an expensive train twitch, and 2. The initial text read '(not Red-flanked Bluetail)' which led me to believe that it must be a female as you surely couldn't mistake a male White-throated Robin for, well, ANYTHING!
Tuesday morning came and I was planning on having a relaxing day off from a pretty hectic weekend's ringing. Chris rang me to say that Robin Sandham was getting ready to go for the bird and asked if we fancied it. Before long, I had my bag packed and a car full of Robin Sandham, Martin Jones, Chris Jones, Chris Bridge and myself were eastern bound with Hartlepool Headland set on the satnav!

Arriving at Hartlepool at 5pm, it was pouring down with rain and there wasn't a birder in sight. Chris Bridge spotted a birder 'nipping' out of a garage door next to a large wall which I recognised from photos. We soon entered this very door and met a crowd of 25 people in the Doctor's garden. The bird appeared after about 2 minutes on a compost heap and then began feeding on the lawn. The photos do no justice for this bird as it is stunning in the flesh, filled with character. It was slightly too far for anything decent in terms of photography but I settled for a few record shots and very pleasing scope and bins views.
The bird was identified in the hand as a 1st summer female which, according to Svensson, a 2y fem has light tips to a varying number of Primary Coverts, tertials or outer Greater Coverts. Primaries rather much worn, brownish....I couldn't see any of this in the field if I'm honest!

It was a truly superb bird and one that hasn't quite sunk in yet. Have I really seen a White-throated Robin in Britain? Thanks to the 'Doctor' for allowing access into your very well kept garden as well as Jason Stannage for keeping us updated on our outward journey. Thanks also to Martin for doing all the driving and a final thanks to the other 3 for making it such an enjoyable twitch
A cracking bird!