Tom and I dropped by Jim and Elaine's house on Sunday just as the snow began melting and the birds began singing. We spent a pleasant 3 or 4 hours netting at the feeders in the garden and we found most individuals in rude health, despite the cold snap.
We processed 41 birds (24 new/17 retrap) comprising: House Sparrow 13/9, Robin 1/0, Greenfinch 1/0, Great Tit 1/1, Goldfinch 5/0, Chaffinch 1/0, Blue Tit 0/3, Dunnock 1/3, Fieldfare 1/0, Reed Bunting 1/0.
Sutton Bonington has been rather disappointing for the last two months so I thought a summary would be better than a visit by visit account. A combination of a few things, not many birds at the start of the year, nets not necessarily positioned in the best place and the weather. Two of these are much improved, the birds are now there and new net positions seem to be catching much better. The one thing we have not been able to do anything about is the weather. Our visits are restricted to a Saturday or Sunday and despite trying to follow the forecasts and pick the best day we have been hampered by the wind, rain or snow on every visit so far this year. Yesterday was no different, despite clear skies from the start it was bitterly cold and the easterly wind increased as the morning went on billowing out the nets. I think we were all glad to finish even though we had the best catch of the year with 50 birds.
The various teams this year have consisted of Maria, Kirsten, Alex, Duncan, Sue, Trish, Jake, Tom, Gary and I. Total catches for January and February have been 155 including 62 retraps, made up of (new/retrap): Fieldfare 3/0, Redwing 3/0, Blackbird 3/0, Robin 2/12, Dunnock 4/8, Blue Tit 7/9, Great Tit 3/5, Coal Tit 1/0, Goldcrest 1/0, Long-tailed Tit 0/13, Greenfinch 2/0, Goldfinch 2/0, Chaffinch 6/1, Reed Bunting 12/7, Yellowhammer 43/7, House Sparrow 1/0. The oldest retraps have been from 2015. It is at least good to see that half the birds caught have been Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings.
Thanks to Maria for keeping the feeders topped up during the week.
The ringing Base and processing Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings (S. Lakeman)
Times, they are a changin . . . . Orwin's is being planted up as woodland by Brack students (see pictures), one of three new woodlands going in on the estate this winter. Generally new woodland is to be welcomed, but personally I think Orwin's should have been kept as permanent damp grassland giving another habitat on the estate and more in keeping with the landscape character of the dumble and historic farming patterns. Having said that the emergent woodland will suit bird species like Whitethroat and Willow Warbler.
Results from our last three ringing visits to the supplementary feeding station are follow:-
Saturday 20 January - Species totals: 29 birds (13 new/16 retrap): Treecreeper 0/1, Robin 0/1, Fieldfare 2/0, Redwing 1/0, Blue Tit 4/6, Great Tit 2/6, Chaffinch 0/2, Yellowhammer 2/2. Team – Duncan, Issie, Jim & Sue.
Monday 5 February - Species totals: 45 birds (25 new/20 retrap): Long-tailed Tit 1/1, Goldcrest 1, Robin 0/3, Blackbird 3/1, Fieldfare 2/0, Blue Tit 2/4, Great Tit 2/8, Chaffinch 5/0, Yellowhammer 6/3, Reed Bunting 2/0. Team – Amy, Jim, Kev & Maria.
Thursday 22 February - Species totals: 107 birds (64 new/43 retrap): Treecreeper 1/0, Robin 0/2, Dunnock 3/0, Blackbird 2/2, Blue Tit 2/2, Great Tit 7/9, Chaffinch 4/2, Yellowhammer 34/26, Reed Bunting 8/0, House Sparrow 1/0. Team – Abbie, Duncan, Jim & Tom.
A few highlights Frost equals good numbers of Yellowhammers ringed & retrapped. Reed buntings are back, we had none in 2014/15. Oldest ringed birds were Chaffinch (2015), Great Tit (2014), and three Yellowhammer (2014). As ever, massive thanks to Simon Taylor for keeping the seed hoppers topped up. We and the birds greatly appreciate it!
As usual, our recent recoveries have included a lot of local Barn Owl movements, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
Perhaps the most interesting recovery of the latest batch we have received is that of a Kingfisher that was ringed at Holme Pierrepont last July. We don't get many recoveries of this species, and the bird in question made a long movement down south and was found in Studland, Dorset in January. It was, unfortunately, dead when picked up.
Another Attenborough Cormorant has been re-sighted, this time a bird colour-ringed in July 2016, seen twice at Rutland water in January.
An Attenborough Heron, ringed in April last year has been found dead in Gower, South Wales in December.
An adult female Pied Flycatcher, caught at a nest-box at our site in Wales last summer, had originally been ringed the previous summer in Herefordshire as a chick.
A House Sparrow, ringed in Gary's Garden as a youngster last June, was found dead in a nearby garden on Christmas Day.
Another bird from Gary's Garden, a Goldfinch, has been controlled by ringers in France, at a site in Wirwignes, pas-de-Calais in December. It had originally been ringed in January.
A Blackbird ringed at the beginning of 2015 at Newthorpe, has been controlled by ringers on the Isle of Wight at Hasely Manor, where the Isle of Wight ringing course is held. It was controlled on the 11th June.
A Long-tailed tit, ringed in some allotments in Leicester in March last year, was controlled by the group at the winter site at Sutton Bonington on the 17th December.
Finally, a Blue Tit ringed in the nest by Birklands ringers in Bestwood Country Park during May last year, has been caught by Mick at his site nearby in November. He also controlled another Birklands Blue Tit on the same day, a 1st year bird that had initially been ringed at the country park in October.
In between the winds, Duncan, Kev, Kirsten, Sue and myself got another session in at the feeders at Brackenhurst. The weather was cool, calm and cloudy; ideal for ringing. We caught birds steadily over the morning, and finished on a total of 93 birds processed.
Yellowhammer – 32 birds processed, and we now have had 70+ birds this winter. This is already more than the very mild winters of two and three years ago. So, definitely a correlation between mean temperature and birds coming to the feeders. The oldest retrap was from winter 2013/14.
Song Thrush – only our sixth bird in 10 years, but the second of this winter and the first to be caught at the feeders.
Great Tit – it's not usual to get an influx of unringed birds this time of year, but 13 is unusual. It shows there’s still stuff to learn about our so called sedentary resident bird species.
Chaffinch – we had an old bird originally ringed in winter 2011/12.
It can be tricky to determine if Yellowhammers are juveniles or adults. One of the ageing criteria we use is to look for different generations of feathers in their tertials. See photo below which shows a Yellowhammer with different generations, which makes it a juvenile first winter bird.
Species totals (new/retrap) 64/39, total 93: Robin 0/2, Blackbird 3/5, Fieldfare 3/0, Redwing 1/0, Song Thrush 1/0, Blue Tit 5/11, Great Tit 13/11, Bullfinch 0/1, Chaffinch 3/1, Yellowhammer 22/8, Reed Bunting 1/0.
Yellowhammer showing two generations of tertials making it a first-winter bird. (JL)
Diaries and the winds meant this was to be the first New Year visit to the feeders at Brackenhurst. It was a cold, dreich January morning, and we never saw the sun at all. However, Kev spotted a Tawny Owl flying away from us in the gloom as we drove up. We were Duncan, Issie, Kev and myself.
Catching was steady through the session with 70 birds processed. Highlights were:
18 Blue Tits – the highest number for some time.
Yellowhammers – nice to finally get amongst them this winter with 26 individuals processed.
Uncommon species – Treecreeper and Bullfinch are barely annual at the site, and it was nice to see them in the hand again.
We finished on a total of 70 birds, including 34 retraps. The catch was made up of (new/retrap): Treecreeper 1/0, Robin 0/2, Goldcrest 1/1, Blue Tit 3/15, Great Tit 1/3, Chaffinch 3/2, Bullfinch 1/0, Yellowhammer 20/6.
All of the retraps were first ringed at Brackenhurst, with the oldest retrap a Blue Tit after nearly 4 years, ringed as a juvenile in December 2013 and previously retrapped twice in 2014 at the same site.
I thought we were going to have a team of nine for the first session of the New Year at Sutton Bonington, but two fell ill and dropped out and I was not feeling 100% (by the evening I had lost my voice). Having baited up the site a couple of times over the holidays and not seen many birds there I thought we may end up with more ringers than birds – and I was nearly right!
It was a bitterly cold day, the wind chill making it particularly unpleasant and ultimately the strength of the wind affected the nets too much, enforcing an early finish. The team consisted of Kirsten, Alex, Duncan, Trish, Jake, Gary and I.
We ended with a catch of just 15 including 6 retraps. The catch was made up of (new/retrap): Fieldfare 2/0, Redwing 2/0, Blackbird 1/0, Robin 0/5, Blue Tit 1/0, Great Tit 1/0, Goldcrest 1/0, Long-tailed Tit 0/1, Yellowhammer 1/0. The oldest retrap was from 2015.
A quick look through the BTO online ringing and nest recording report shows that around 300 to 400 Green Woodpeckers are ringed annually in Britain and Ireland. A search of our own totals in DemOn (yes, DemOn!) shows that we have ringed 42 new and retrapped 5 Green woodpeckers since 1997.
They are a green-listed bird and by no means rare around here but they are still an unfamiliar bird in the hand and therefore ageing often requires reference to the “Identification Guide to European Non-passerines” by Kevin Baker. However, when faced with single birds of unfamiliar species, it can still be tricky to interpret the descriptions and pictures in this book (unfortunately I still have an “old” copy). But occasionally you get lucky and catch a really helpful bird...
This male Green woodpecker was caught at Hazelford Island on 22 December 2017 and its mixed-age plumage shows very well the different tertial patterns described by Kevin Baker.