Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Gull Surveys, Puffin Island - 29th May 2012

Today I visited Puffin Island, Anglesey to survey Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull nests with the RSPB. We spent all day on top of the island counting nests.

The habitat was quite dense so there was a lot of back and forth. As a result, we could quite easily find a nest twice, so we marked each nest with colour-dyed Pasta. This helped us three ways:
1. Allowed us to not mark a nest twice.
2. Allowed us to perform a form of mark and recapture, where we went back through the colony and marked any nests we missed. I will leave this to the experts to analyse this data, but apparently this will be significant to make an estimate of the true population in the colony.
3. Bags of pasta were filled with 100 pieces, meaning that you only needed to count what pasta pieces we had left to get a count of how many nests we found.

We also got a chance to see some very cute chicks and even some birds hatching which is always a fantastic experience.
The best thing about Puffin Island is just how close you can get to the beautiful sea birds of the British coastline with Shag, Cormorant, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar and Kittiwake a matter of feet away. The photos above and below were taken with my mobile 'digibinned', which gives you an impression of how close you get (apologies for the poor quality however. I hope to get some better photos on the forthcoming Puffin Island Ringing Trip this weekend).

Finally, back at the beach where we were collected, I found this lovely Eider nest. I now know why Eider down is so popular for comfort as it was incredibly soft! My first Eider nest.

Throughout the day, 4 of us found 850+ Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull nests. It was a very educational day which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Two 300's in a week! - 300th Post - 28th May 2012

Yesterday evening, I noticed that I was on 299 blog posts, so my next one had better be a good one! I woke up at 05.00 this morning, watched the sun rise and caught the first train to Llandudno to head up the Great Orme. With continued hot sunny weather and a steady ESE breeze, I had high hopes that I would find something juicy to make my 300th post a bit special.
Arriving in the cemetery, I met up with Marc, discussing the Buzzard sp from the Bird Race which after a hell of a lot of research and opinions from experts, it appears to be a weird/shot 2cy Common Buzzard!
We saw Spotted Flycatcher and several singing Lesser Whitethroat.
Walking up to the limestone pavement I picked up 5 Tree Pipit and 3 Wheatear. Sadly, this was about it for migrants and it was all a bit of a disappointment. It was even more of a disappointment when I hear a distant purring that instantly sounded like Bee-eater. I scanned frantically and listened out for anything, but it weirdly turned out to be a strange calling House Martin! Either I was hearing an uncharacteristic call, or I heard a purr and jumped to Bee-eater as that was one of my possible predictions last night.

Despite seeing nothing incredible, it was very nice to be out on such a glorious morning and also nice to finish the day with watching the Olympic Torch passing through Bangor.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

North Wales Bird Race - 25/26 May 2012.

I 17.30 on Friday 25th, I joined Marc Hughes, Chris Jones and Mike Duckham at Conwy RSPB. We started a 24hr Bird Race at 18.10 and headed up the Conwy Valley seeing target species like Yellowhammer, Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Whinchat, Cuckoo and Common Sandpiper

We ended the first leg at Gwydir where we had incredible views of Nightjar about 20 feet away wing clapping whilst the light still allowed all the plumage to be observed. Fantastic! We also had drumming Snipe here which was very evocative in the dusky light.

Sleeping at Marc's house, we got up very early the next morning and met Ken Croft by the Menai Bridge for the Anglesey leg of the BirdRace. The first bird of the day was Tawny Owl in Menai Bridge, but we then shot off to Malltraeth Marsh RSPB for the Baillon's Crake, hoping for views of the bird. We managed to hear the bird very well at very close range, which was slightly frustrating as it was just slightly too unviewable. We also picked up Grasshopper Warbler, Red Kite and Water Rail here. (The Kite was a quality Anglesey bird!)
Throughout the day, we headed off to Cemlyn, Alaw Estuary, Penmon, Valley Lakes, Llywenan, Treaddur Bay and South Stack with species highlights of Curlew Sandpiper at Cemlyn, Marsh Harrier at Llywenan and 3 Red Kite across Anglesey migrating South East. We also got a couple of migrating Crossbill at Penmon including a stunningly red male calling loudly.
Dropping Ken back over the Menai we finished the Anglesey leg and headed off up the Ogwen Valley and Aber Ogwen producing Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Wheatear, Little Egret and Common Gull. We ended the day at Conwy RSPB picking up Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel and the last bird of the day, just as we were about to run out of time, was Sparrowhawk!

We managed to see/hear 133 species (including 7 Welsh Ticks for me and lots of yearticks!) which is by far my best day total and 10.
The list is as follows: Mute Swan, Greylag, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Eider, RB Merganser, Goosander, Red Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Water Rail, Baillon's Crake, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank, Knot, Grey Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Black Guillemot, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Nighjar, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Hoooded Crow, Rook, Raven, Chough, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Skylark, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Wren, Nuthatch, Treecreeeper, Starling, Dipper, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Spotted Flycathcer, Pied Flycatcher, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Tree Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Goldfinch, Redpoll, Linnet, Crossbill, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting.

A truly awesome day with some quality birds and lots of great banter. Thanks to Marc and Chris for the invite, to Marc for the driving and to all 4 of the other members who made for a fantastic day!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Baillon's Crake - Malltraeth Marsh RSPB - 23rd May 2012

 (Turn up the volume very loud!)
Marc Hughes, Chris Jones, Matthew Bruce and I visited Malltraeth Marsh RSPB this evening to listen out for/see the reported Baillon's Crake the night previous. It was heard by the RSPB wardens the night before singing away like an Edible Frog! We arrived on site at 20.30 and within about 2 minutes of arrival, we heard to weird rattley croaks! Couldn't believe what I was hearing! The bird called on and off until 22.00 when it started really going for it and was heard at about 30 meters range.

I managed to gain a slightly higher vantage point looking down onto the marsh, observing a small pool in the process which looked like the best bet for getting a visual on the bird. I heard the bird call from a very specific area, followed by a quick rustle in the reeds and another call. That is the closest I got to seeing the bird. I think a return visit is in order providing it stays a while.

 A really weird feeling to know I was only 30 meteres away from a singing MEGA only a 20 minute drive from where I go to University, but I haven't yet seen it... A very educational visit indeed!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

No300 - Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor)

I've finally done it! I have now seen 300 species of bird in Britain, and what a bird to have as my 300th species! I joined Alex Jones on the journey south to Herefordshire on Tuesday afternoon arriving at 18.15 to the highest 18 hole golf course in England!
It was a stunning day and it took about 10 minutes of walking before we arrived at the assembled crowd where we got our first views of the Saharan beauty! It ran around feeding actively, seemingly oblivious to the birdwatchers with dropped jaws all enjoying this stunning bird.
The way it fed, it weirdly reminded me somewhat of a Mistle Thrush, but it is very plover like, and the combination of the plover like walk, the V on the nape and the fact it was on top of an open hill makes this bird seem similar to Dotterel in many ways.

We watched the bird walk around for about an hour and a half taken lots of photos and just taking in what we were actually looking at. One of those birds that you look at in the back of your first bird book and think 'Wow! I wonder If one day, I will actually see one of these?!'.
I have seen some wonderful birds in the 300 species I have seen, but I am rather confident that this is the most enjoyable and greatest bird I have ever seen in Britain (Taking Alpine Swift on the Wirral and Northern Waterthrush on Scilly off the top spots).
Thanks to Alex Jones for driving and making for an excellent twitch!

I'm not sure if there is an opposite phrase to 'Every cloud has a silver lining', but yesterday applies to this as I was clearing space for more photos of this fantastic bird and accidentally deleted all my photos from my recent trip to Spain with Kane Brides. Hopefully I will be able to get these recovered in the next week, but it put somewhat of a dampener on what was one of my favourite days of all time!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

CES - Constantly Extracting Sedges! - 17th May 2012

Arriving on site at 04.40, the weather didn't look as though it was going to be kind for the 2nd CES of 2012. After a couple of drops of rain before set up, it did however clear up and made for a nice morning's mist-netting, catch 70 birds, with the main species of the day being Sedge Warbler, of which I ringed 12 new birds.
A mixed bag of ringing with: Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Reed Bunting and Dunnock.
In addition to the ringing, we were treated to another view of the Glossy Ibis at 04.40 when we stepped out of the car as it flew low overhead and then landed on top of a scraggy bush sticking out the water about 40 feet away! If it was any lighter, it would have made for a fantastic photo. It soon moved off its presumed roost and flew across to suitable feeding habitat. A real bonus to waking up very very early indeed!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Chough part 2 - 16th May 2012

Today saw me join Tony Cross and Adrienne ringing Chough. Whilst I joined them, we visited two nests. The first nest had chicks that were too small to ring and another had 3 lovely chicks that behaved rather well, again proving that they are one of the best species to ring.
We also were able to catch 2 adults throughout the afternoon and incredibly, both were unringed, meaning I got the delight of ringing both of them. I thought the juveniles were stunning, but the adults are just incredible! There is a surprising amount of sexual dimorphism between males and females with the females being remarkably small in comparison to the hefty males. They also, unsurprisingly given that bill, pack a nasty peck. A joy to be in such close quarters with.

Thanks to Tony and Adrienne for taking me out to celebrate finishing my 2nd year exams!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Lifting Tits! - 12th May 2012

I visited Kane today in Atherton to lift off the adult Blue Tits from their nests whilst they incubate to ring any new birds, as well as identify any colour-ringed birds. We managed to catch all 10 females but only ID'd 3 males as they weren't in the vicinity of the boxes whilst we were present. I will have to make a return visit to catch the males when there are chicks that need to be fed.

This years 'breeding colour-ring' code is Mauve over metal, Mauve over colour. We managed to add a further 8 birds to our project whilst only 2 were already colour-ringed. (close inspection of this, you can even see the stage [3] brood patch!)

It was also nice to see that at least one of the recently ringed Tawny Owls has fledged successfully and is alive and well. Whilst checking the nest site to see if they had fledged, I managed to spot this young chap staring down at us. A successful day! I am now very close to being able to start my dissertation. Once the breeding season is over, I will do a whole blog post about my project and what aims and hypotheses I intend to research. I could well be doing a CES visit tomorrow so a blog post may follow shortly, but if not, my next blog post will be about Kane and my trip to Spain next weekend!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Chough ringing - N.Wales - 11th May 2012

Thanks to Adrienne for inviting Chris and I to ring a delightful brood of Chough in N.Wales. They ranged from Feathers Small/Medium (FS/M) to Feather's Large (FL). I ringed 2, and Chris the others.
I forgot how awesome these 'little' birds are. One of the highlights of my ringing career by far! I can't wait to get some more ringed over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Pied Flycatcher survery 2012 - 8th May 2012

I did my second Pied Flycatcher survey of the year today for the Nest Record Scheme with my mate Etienne. 14 active Pied Flycatcher nests were noted out of 49 boxes with extra birds singing by other boxes on the woodland hillside. It's very rewarding to look into boxes and see eggs being laid to produce one of the most beautiful British breeding birds. It's also a privilege to be able to be so close to the singing males and less so beautiful, however still lovely, females. We also noted 4 active Great Tit eggs and several singing Common Redstart, 1+ Common Cuckoo and a singing Tree Pipit. I was also lucky enough to find my very first Blackcap nest which was really rewarding after looking in endless bramble patches around Bangor.  
A male Pied Flycatcher guarding 1 of the 49 nest boxes in the woodland.
Pied Flycatcher nest with 2 eggs. (They usually have between 6-7 eggs, so this nest has only just started laying.)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

2012's first CES - 6th May 2012

Male Cetti's Warbler
2CY Lesser Whitethroat
Male Grasshopper Warbler 
A fantastic morning ringing was had at 2012's first Constant Effort Site (CES) visit of the year. A total of 59 birds were caught including a lovely pair of Grasshopper Warbler, several Willow Warbler, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Redpoll, Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff. The two highlights for me however were a pair of Cetti's Warbler and a 2cy male Lesser Whitethroat. I have wanted to see these in the hand for a long time so it was a joy to see both species in the hand on the same ringing session. Upon arrival before the sun had risen, we were greeted by a strange shape flying over us that I initially thought was a Great Crested Grebe with a stick in its mouth! It was in fact a Glossy Ibis! Really wasn't expecting that!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Babies, Babies and more Babies!

I spent the afternoon walking around eastern Bangor with Chris looking for nests. It went really well until we found 4 freshly fledged Grey Wagtail in the harbour which annoyed us massively, as we could also see the nest which they came from! I got some photos of a couple of the very tame fledglings

We managed to find several Song Thrush (above) and Blackbird nests, as well as a few Woodpigeon nests (with very large and very small chicks as well as a couple of eggs). I also found a nest by a farm that could be a Pied Wagtail, but we will need to wait til eggs are laid before we can comfortably ID it.

A really enjoyable day. I previously used to really steer clear of nesting, or Oology as it is technically called, as I found it really hard work and not very rewarding, but now I'm getting the hang of where to look and finding some active nests, it's actually quite addictive!