Bird Ringing in the Garden

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. This is because I have not managed to find any time to write with the amount of school work that I have been receiving.

Over the last few weeks, the bird ringing group with whom I train has been ringing in our garden. However, I think that we have all found ringing in gardens a more luxury way of bird ringing, and probably not one to keep in the habit of doing! This is because we can sit in a nice warm house on sofas while eating bacon butties and yet still constantly watch the mist nets.

The ringing has gone surprisingly well with an ever widening range of species being caught, and of course, an ever expanding number of birds being ringed.

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Collared Dove

 

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Juvenile Woodpigeon

 

The birds that we have caught most regularly have been Tits – especially Blue, Great and Coal. This was what we were expecting but we didn’t really think that we had so many Coal Tits visiting the garden – so far we have ringed around 10 of them, and have still noticed plenty of unringed Coal Tits visiting the feeders. We also recently caught some Long-Tailed Tits which are lovely birds to have in the hand because they are so calm, and one that I held recently even started singing whilst in my hand.

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The most surprising bird that we have managed to ring was a Grey Wagtail, which on a very windy day, suddenly flew into the net. This was very surprising because these birds are usually found by shallow, relatively fast-flowing rivers, and not in gardens. They are beautiful birds with their stunning yellow underparts, and the “Grey” in their name makes them sound quite dull, when they are not.

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Grey Wagtail

We have also caught several House Sparrows which although may not seem that interesting, as they are facing a massive decline, they have become a lot more unusual bird to catch in the net. Not only this, but when viewed up close the level of detail and variety of different shades of brown really shows.

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Male House Sparrow

I was also very pleased to have ringed my first Great-Spotted Woodpecker, which we caught in the garden. Usually these birds are very noisy in the net, however this male only called for a short time before calming down. It also liked to drum away at my fingers while I was holding, although, thankfully it never did so all that hard. They are extraordinarily beautiful with the incredible bright red of their plumage and the intricacy of their black and white wings.

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Male Great-Spotted Woodpecker

I am very much enjoying bird ringing as it has enabled me to admire birds even more by seeing the detail and intricacy of them up close and getting to know their behaviour better. Ringing in the garden has also helped me to spend even more time staring out of the window, as I try to spot the ringed birds. This has also helped me to understand just how many different birds are visiting the garden, as I found out with the Coal Tits, having thought that there were only two or three, and now realising that there are at least ten.

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Wytham Woods Marsh Tit

 

 

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Sparrowhawks (Accipiter Nisus)

After a long break in terms of blog posts, I have finally decided to make another blog post again.

If you have read some of my previous blog posts, you may know that I have had lots of encounters with Sparrowhawks this year. As I have had so many, I have decided to make a blog post about Sparrowhawks, and also about some more of my recent encounters.

Sparrowhawks are probably one of my favourite birds of prey due to their striking plumage, especially of the male, and also their amazing ability to manoeuvre and hunt at high speeds.

Sparrowhawks can be found all over the UK, apart from in the very far North of Scotland. They often live in gardens in urban and rural areas, and also in areas of farmland and wetland, although, they are traditionally found in woodland, and primarily, this is where they tend to breed.

There is a big difference between the male and the female birds, with the males being fairly small birds of prey with a bluish grey back, and some orange and white underparts. The females however, are much larger and have a greyish brown back, with brown and white underparts. Due to this difference in size, the males tend to hunt on smaller birds, like Tits, whereas, the females tend to prey on larger birds like Blackbirds, and even up to Woodpigeon size. Although, they both usually hunt using surprise as they dash through trees and vegetation. Their incredible speed and manoeuvrability in pursuit allows them to sneak up close before chasing smaller birds through areas which most birds that size wouldn’t even get through, let alone at that speed. However, due to the numerous birds looking out for them, as soon as they are seen, the alarm call is raised, and they have lost their benefit of undetection, hence why only around one in ten hunts results in a catch.

When breeding, Sparrowhawks time the hatching of their chicks so that the chicks hatch at the same time that most smaller birds’ chicks fledge and leave the nest. Therefore, as fledglings make fairly easy pickings for Sparrowhawks, there is generally plenty of food around for the chicks, and not much chance of shortage.

There are roughly 35,000 breeding birds in the UK, and although their numbers faced a major decline in the past, they are now much more stable. Unlike most birds of prey, Sparrowhawks don’t usually live any more than three years – a relatively short lifespan.

In addition to my previous encounters, I have also had many more sightings, but one of the most amazing recent ones was in my garden. One of them was where I was playing badminton outside in the garden, when suddenly a male Sparrowhawk came soaring straight over the net, where it narrowly missed colliding with a shuttlecock that I had just hit. Again, like in previous posts, it was incredible to see such a beautiful bird up close, and also how it has adapted to survival in urban environments. It was clearly now much more tolerant of humans around it. Amazingly, I still not seen a Sparrowhawk actually hunt successfully and kill a bird, but maybe this will in time come. I am also greatly hoping that I will get to ring one of these birds soon, and see them up close, although I am not sure about whether I really want to hold one with those talons and beak.

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Farmoor Reservoir – Red-Necked Phalarope, Dunlin, and Little Grebes

Last Sunday, when we dropped off my brother at his sailing course, my parents and I decided to go for a wander around Farmoor Reservoir. I knew that a Red-Necked Phalarope had been spotted there very recently, and so I was hoping that we might see it.

After not too long, about halfway along the causeway through the middle of the reservoir, we spotted this tiny and beautiful wader. The bird was a juvenile bird, in the middle of its migration up north. This was quite a rare sighting for Oxford, as only around 30 of these birds migrate through the country each migration season. Unlike, most waders, these small birds (not much bigger than a House Sparrow), spend most of their time swimming about on the water, and with their lobed toes, are well adapted to doing so. Being a juvenile, it was nowhere near as colourful as the adults are, when they are in their breeding plumage, and so, this bird was mostly white, with a little grey, and no red neck at all.

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Juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope

Also, on the shore next to it, was a juvenile Dunlin – a similarly sized bird, but one that prefers to spend most of its time on its feet wading. I was amazed at how tame these two birds were, as they were not at all bothered by our presence, and were not disturbed by either us, or the many sailing boats in the water.

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Juvenile Dunlin

As usual, there were also huge numbers of Black-Headed Gulls and Coots at Farmoor. There were also two species of Grebe present – Great Crested and Little – two birds that hunt for fish and other underwater animals, by diving down underwater for long periods of time, and chasing their prey. At this time of year, most of the Great Crested Grebes aren’t in their spectacular breeding plumage, instead in a duller white, black and grey plumage.

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Little Grebe

On the smaller of the two reservoirs there, many Cormorants rest and sunbathe on some rafts that float on the water. There were at least 30 of these birds sitting on them. Unfortunately, I was not able to pick out the Shag among them, that had been spotted recently. There were also lots of Tufted Ducks at the reservoir – another species of diving duck, and one where the male in particular stands out. The male has a black and white plumage with an unmistakeable crest on its head. The females however, is a more browny black colour, with a hardly noticeable crest on the back of the head.

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Tufted Duck

Although I was only there for a short time, I was very pleased to see a huge variety of birds, and especially a Red-Necked Phalarope so close to home.

Nuthatches, Woodpeckers and more Bird Ringing

Apologies for the last post just now, which I accidentally published after just starting to write! There appears to have been a slight problem with either the computer or myself! Not sure which! I have now deleted this post from my blog page.

Back in my garden, there has been lots of bird activity recently, with large flocks of tits starting to form and congregate at the feeders. There have been huge numbers of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-Tailed Tits all visiting the garden at once, with numbers even reaching up to 40 at times. The purpose of these mixed flocks is for safety from predators (although, predators are more likely to find them), and to increase the chance of finding some food for survival. These flocks particularly start to form around early Winter, before times start getting harder for the tits. Occasionally, a Nuthatch has made a visit with them as well – a bird that I have not seen in the garden for a year or two. Nuthatches are incredible birds with their stunning orange and blue plumage with a thick black stripe through the eye. They also have the phenomenal ability to be the only bird to walk headfirst down a tree, unlike Woodpeckers and Treecreepers, which have their head pointing upwards.

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Nuthatch

Having said earlier in the year that I was hoping to have a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting the garden, I have recently been very pleased to spot not only an adult, but also a juvenile with a totally red head. However, they have not visited the garden or the feeders together yet, perhaps suggesting that its parents are elsewhere, or that it has left its parents.

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Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Very recently, my bird ringing group with whom I train, decided to try and come ring birds in our garden. So, we moved our feeders out more into the open and then set up some mist nets around three sides of them. Although, I was quite disappointed to only catch three species of bird – Coal Tit, Blue Tit, and Great Tit, we did catch 20 individual unringed birds. For next time, we have decided to place the mist nets better, move the feeders 1 week before, so that the birds can adjust to it, and also, ring inside so that we don’t disturb the birds while we process and ring the birds that we have caught.

I have also recently visited Warneford Meadow – part of my local patch that is very close to my home, where I was able to spot some birds such as Green Woodpeckers and Kestrels, which is incredible considering that this is virtually surrounded by houses. The meadow often provides a wide range of wildlife at different times of year, and can be a beautiful place to quickly escape to for enjoying nature, without walking far.

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Green Woodpecker
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Speckled Wood

 

Brixham, South Devon

Part of our holiday over the summer was spent at Brixham in South Devon. My last blog post was about a small nature reserve nearby and this one will be more about Brixham itself.

As our house looked out over Brixham harbour, I was able to see all the action happening in the harbour, and so this was the perfect time to sit on the balcony with a pair of binoculars and identify gulls. I think overall, my knowledge improved greatly.

Also, from the house, it is possible to spot the occasional seal surfacing, although this requires a lot of patience.

The view from our house

Along the pier and along walls by the harbour, there are some very tame Turnstones which will allow you to walk within a couple of metres of them without being too bothered by you at all. Of course this time, there were as usual plenty of this beautiful birds with their mottled plumage. Some of them with some juveniles that had nearly gained their full adult plumage.

Turnstone

Also along the pier there are lots of Rock Pipits and various small waders at points too. This time, I saw the Pipits and some Dunlin amongst the rocks on the edge there. Often both of these species of bird (or any of the birds that I have seen on the rocks along the pier) are very hard to see because they blend in very well with their surroundings. Sometimes when watching them, they will suddenly disappear behind a rock or into a crevice when running around at high speeds to avoid the waves crashing down over them.

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Rock Pipit

Last year when I came here in March, I saw several birds amongst these rocks that for some reason I assumed to be Redshanks or something, but when looking back at some of my photos from last year, I saw a photo of a bird that I was certain was a Purple Sandpiper, yet I have supposedly never seen a Purple Sandpiper. I suddenly realised that these ‘Redshanks’ were in fact Purple Sandpipers, and just to be sure, I even consulted by various bird books, and there was no doubt that it was a Purple Sandpiper. I still cannot believe my ‘stupidity’ as these birds look nothing like Redshanks. So, there’s a new bird for me. However, this time, there were none of these birds because Purple Sandpipers are present in the UK all through the year, apart from during the summer months.

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Purple Sandpipers

One of the best things to do if you are staying in Brixham is to catch a boat out of the harbour, because in a small gap between two pontoons that is necessary to pass through, you can get up close to some big birds. On one of the pontoons is a flat surface where humans don’t pass over, and here Cormorants and Great Black-Backed Gulls sit and rest. Coming up so close to these two amazing birds is incredible and often, the Cormorants stretch out their wings in that well known position to sunbathe.

Sometimes, when the water is very clear and when you are lucky, you can see well enough to actually see Cormorants swimming underwater and chasing their prey. This is a very privileged moment and something amazing and very hard to see.

Jellyfish are also numerable in the water and sometimes these are caught along with some fish in the very popular activity; crabbing.

On Thursday, I am back to school, and this year is GCSEs for me, so hard work is about to get even harder. Although, hopefully I will still be able to spend lots of time with wildlife.

Berry Head, South Devon

Berry Head is a nature reserve near Brixham in South Devon and is one of my favourite places to go to while staying there.

The best time to visit Berry Head is probably in late spring because lots of seabirds, including Guillemots and Razorbills are nesting here. Of course, I was too late for this and so by the time that I came along, they were all gone and the cliffs were left virtually desolate. Although quieter than in previous visits, there was still lots of wildlife about to be seen.

Near the car park there, we saw two Whitethroats  in some shrubs. I have also seen Cirl Buntings here, as this is one of the best places in the country to see them, and though I didn’t see them this time, I did hear them.

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Common Whitethroats

This was certainly a holiday for testing my gull identification, as our house overlooked the harbour and all the gulls flying about, and here was another place with an abundance of gulls. There were Herring, Black-Headed, Lesser Black-Backed and Great Black-Backed Gulls. I decided to learn to distinguish different species by colour of plumage, leg colour, beak colour, size, etc.

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Great Black-Backed Gull (I think!)

Whilst there, we were lucky enough to see a pod of porpoises passing by out to sea and I just about managed to take a photo of one surfacing, however, it was not a very good one.

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A bad photo of a Porpoise

There were also lots of butterflies near the far edge of the headland in and amongst some wildflowers. I put my ever-increasing knowledge of butterflies to the test and identified Red Admirals, Peacocks, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods, Large Whites, Small Whites, Common Blues, Walls and Small Coppers. There were all sorts of butterfly species. I took lots of photos:

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Small Copper

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Wall
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Gatekepper

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Large White

 

 

 

 

Sanctuary Areas

Apologies for no post in a very long time. This is because I have been on holiday in South Devon and North Cornwall for the past several weeks and have had very minimal WiFi connection!

Whilst walking along the coast of North Cornwall, I noticed that there were several RSPB Sanctuary Areas on either side of the path. Some signs said that they were in place there to protect ground nesting birds such as Skylarks and Corn Buntings.

In the past 40 years, our breeding farmland bird index has declined by over 50%. This is due to reasons such as a loss of mixed farming, crop changes, more pesticides, etc. In the case of the Skylark, this has declined by 51% and the Corn Bunting declining by 90%. They have both recently been placed on the IUCN Red List as a result of this. Often, in fields, as these birds are ground nesting, their nests can get trampled upon and destroyed, so sanctuary areas have been created to provide safe nesting areas with the right crops for wildlife being grown correctly.

Corn buntings are the main focus of the project, especially as they are now extinct in its neighbouring county, Devon, and also in other counties elsewhere in the UK, such as Somerset. There are now less than 50 pairs remaining in Cornwall alone. Work is of course being done by the RSPB and Natural England to create these sanctuary areas, but also to work with local farmers and raise awareness nearby. So far, the work has been successful and farmers have been willing to cooperate and work with volunteers from the RSPB.

Whilst there, I saw lots of Skylarks, and got a quick glimpse of a couple of Corn Buntings.

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Skylark