Thursday 28 July 2022

Finch House garden - July 2022

 Ringing continued during early July, avoiding the heat of the day via short sessions usually in the morning. With areas of shingle close to the two nets, by the time temperatures dropped off in the early evening most birds had already deserted the feeding station.

Juvenile Blackcap

We ran the water pump to provide running water on the hottest days, a great favorite particularly with tits, finches, Robins and Dunnocks. The resident Blackbird male took to whole scale bathing, defending the water dish and surrounding area during ablutions.

We then had a week away from the 17th when the heatwave was at its worse and left the birds to themselves. By the end of the month despite filled feeders and available water the only birds about were the Blackbirds, Woodpigeon and the odd Robin. We'll have to see what happens next month.

The greatest achievement was probably the number of flat flies collected for Denise Wawman's study. This month I've managed 3 of 3 on a GSW and 5 of 5 on a Song Thrush. It's so much easier in a small glass conservatory than in the open air!

Total: 34 (14)

Great Spotted Woodpecker - 3 (1)
Robin -2
Dunnock - 4 (7)
Blackbird - 2
Song Thrush - 1
Blackcap - 1
Blue Tit - 13
Great Tit - 3 (3)
Chaffinch - 0 (1)
Greenfinch - 4
House Sparrow - 2 (2)

Sculthorpe Moor - 27th July 2022

 A good session following the extreme heat of the previous week. Chiffchaffs were most numerous although probably a mixture of birds bred on site, plus others already moving through on their migration back to the wintering grounds. We caught our first Nuthatch for the site.

Adult male Nuthatch in full primary moult

The resident tits were caught in good numbers, mainly of juveniles including three young Marsh Tits, two of which were already marked by us earlier in the season. 

This young Blue Tit shows signs of a period of poor feeding while the tail feathers 
(retrices) and flight feathers (primaries and secondaries) were being grown.
Note the particularly obvious bars on the tail and at the tops of the secondary feathers.

The resident Wrens continue to feature consistently in catches and the singles of Sedge and Reed Warbler, species seldom caught in the beaver enclosure were both retraps, the Sedge Warbler bearing a ring that we fitted on 7th June this year and the Reed Warbler carrying a Norfolk Ornithologist Association ring, fitted last year, most likely at one of the nearby sites Hempton or Pensthorpe. Full details are awaited.

Reed Warbler ABK9138 was ringed as a juvenile on 17/07/21

Totals: 71 (10)

Wren - 10 (2)
Dunnock - 3
Reed Warbler - 0 (1 control)
Sedge Warbler - 0 (1)
Blackcap - 4 (1)
Chiffchaff - 25
Goldcrest - 1
Marsh Tit - 1 (2)
Blue Tit - 17
Great Tit - 9 (3)
Nuthatch - 1

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Snettisham Coastal Park - Wild Ken Hill fire - July 2022

 Whilst we were away in the Picos de Europa Spain in slightly less heat than the UK, we were saddened to hear of the devastating fire engulfing 33 hectares of Snettisham Coastal Park as shown on the BBC News coverage

The term 'Coastal Park' perhaps, does not convey fully the importance of the area to nature to someone that may not know the area that well. It may merely evoke a picture of a less unique, more common type of Country Park which it is not. 

The Coastal Park is situated between the coastal holiday accommodation of Snettisham beach and South Heacham Beach, and is enjoyed by local residents and by those visiting for walks, many of whom have been doing so for some years.

It is actually part of  Wild Ken Hill.

Gravel was extracted from the coastal pits, between the 1920s and 1959. Some of the pits now form the RSPB reserve and lagoons behind the Snettisham scalp holiday homes. The quarry closed in 1961 and the northern area built over for the caravan park.

The gravel was extracted by the Etna and Single Co Ltd. More information can be found here.

Most of you will probably know the RSPB Snettisham reserve side well, as it is famous for the high tide wader roosts. The lagoons there are deeper, more open and less well vegetated.

The lagoons found in Snettisham Coastal Park are much shallower and less wide than on the RSPB reserve, forming a lovely intermix of reed bed, marshland and scrub of varying heights, with the occasional fully mature tree. Heading north through the Coastal Park, it becomes drier with more low lying scrub. To some extent, this is quite a unique habitat due to the interwoven quality of vegetation, especially in the wetter southern area. 

                                       A typical lagoon        Denise Lamsdell

                Eurasian Coot, parent and chick (taken May 2022) (Denise Lamsdell)             

So, while the RSPB lagoons are great for waders to roost on at high tide and hold wintering wildfowl, the Coastal park is superb for breeding birds, of which there is quite a high degree of diversity. It is a highly important part of the area for breeding Turtle Doves (the UKs fasting declining species), with at least five singing males present this spring, fortuitously mainly to the south of the park, but at least one male's territory was in the fire effected area. 

                                                        Turtle Doves (Chris Lamsdell)

Because of the habit mix, the area held every regularly breeding UK Warbler except Wood Warbler. Cetti's, Grasshopper, Reed and Sedge have been present in the reed/scrub habitat, also Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler (although some of these may have been passing through, using the park as a migration stop off, they are all confirmed as present on other areas of Wild Ken Hill in the breeding season). 

       Reeling Grasshopper Warbler (Denise Lamsdell)

There are good numbers of Linnet and several pairs of Meadow Pipit and Stonechat. It also attracts good numbers of migrants such as Tree Pipit, Wheatear and Redstart in spring and autumn.

        Eurasian Stonechat (Denise Lamsdell)

    Linnet collecting nesting material (Denise Lamsdell)

        Common Whitethroat (Denise Lamsdell)  

          Northern Wheatear (Denise Lamsdell)

We had only managed to ring there twice before the fire, in a limited area along one single track, and the results we had from those two visits lead us to believe that potentially the Coastal Park is one of the best reed/scrub breeding areas for passerines and Turtle Doves in coastal Norfolk, if not the county, and this is probably down to the habitat mix, making it a good breeding area supporting a broad mix of species in good numbers.

No doubt the fire damaged areas will regenerate over time, with reed often quick to recover as is bramble growth, but some other mid height vegetation such as elder, hawthorn and sea buckthorn taking longer to regenerate to an optimum height and density.

Summers are without doubt becoming warmer and drier. Yes, we did always get the occasional blip as we did in the summer of 1976, a summer never to be forgotten that I spent working at a social services summer camp in Dorset through the middle of it, seeing kids from urban areas getting out into the country and seaside, some of whom were there as part of their court assessment process prior to sentencing. But, that was as they say one summer. Global temperature trends have warmed significantly since then.

Where for me the real change has become most noticeable is when recalling those many years birding in London in the 80/90s, and enjoying that winter surge of the easterly airflow, bringing snow and freezing conditions several times most winters, bringing with it an influx of unusual water birds to the West London reservoirs. It often heralded a great winter day's birding with divers, sea ducks and the odd wild swan, wild goose or wader gracing inland waters. 

But for many years now, winters have been dominated by warmer Westerly airflow coming off the Atlantic, with days rarely getting very cold, often overcast, dank and windy. The winter wildfowl numbers are generally lower, with little weather from the east to bring any hope of excitement. The weather change then simply made it less thrilling to be out as there with much less prospect of finding a few unusual birds. There is also the question now, that the fact that losing the really cold biting weather has another impact. Were the cold temperatures significant then, in helping to eradicate the bird flu pathogen in our winter visitors?

Even in Norfolk, the more frequent dominance of the Atlantic westerly weather has effected the bird migration patterns, with fewer easterlies influencing migration. Clearly, population declines will be a factor here too, but looking at the old ringing records of RAR from Blakeney Point and Cley, ringing with Redstart after Redstart on the record sheet, again something unlikely to be experienced in this modern era. I doubt we'll ever see the day in May again when birders can go out and try and out do each other to see the most Bluethroats in one day, when a total seen then on one day, would now be a delight to have recorded over an entire year.

There is no doubt, that climate change is effecting our weather world wide, and thanks to the monitoring efforts of bird ringers worldwide, we have firm proof that bird population numbers and habits are changing as a result. Although we do now have a more diverse range of herons in the UK, a few species of which, in living memory, you would only have experienced in Europe, and also a small population of Swallows now gambling on seeing the winter out in the west country rather than undertaking risky and lengthy migrations, such exploitation of new range opportunities and novel behaviours are inherent survival strategies of species individuals, in response to environmental changes. Having seen flocks of Hirundines decimated by severe November storms in Kenya, with sizable hail stones and heavy downpours that led to unprecedented flooding, the ability of some birds to react to change might provide a glimmer of hope for their species persistence.

Monday 25 July 2022

Picos De Europa, Spain - searching for Water Pipits, July 2022

The UK Water Pipit project is usually active between October when the birds first arrive in the UK, and April when they return to their high altitude breeding grounds and of the 50 or so individuals marked since 2018, there have been no confirmed reports away from the wintering grounds.

In the third week of July, Chris and I have been visiting the Picos de Europa, Spain for spectacular scenery, butterflies and birds. This is also a potential summering ground for our UK wintering Water Pipits. The Picos de Europa is a mountain range extending only 20km long, covering 646 square kilometres and forming part of the more extensive Cantabrian mountains in the north of Spain. The usual daytime temperatures here hover around the 21 degrees Celsius mark, however on only one of the seven days did the temperature fall below 25 degrees and it exceeded 35 degrees on two days. The grassland and mountain flowers were certainly showing the effects of the unusually high temperatures, due to the heatwave that was also affecting the UK at the time. Yet another example of changing conditions due to global warming.

The few records of birds seen in the Picos seem to be in April, possibly before the actual breeding grounds are reached. This paper from 2010 suggests that snow cover is usual for 6 to 7 months of the year at the breeding altitudes and one has to wonder whether this is still the case in 2022 with warmer temperatures decreasing the time when snow is present. 

 Even without snow in July, much of the area is inaccessible, so 'Where to look for Water Pipits?' was the question.

We decided to try a couple of places that mirror our old and current winter ringing sites, Staines Moor, Surrey and Wind Ken Hill, Norfolk with features as follows: cattle and/or horses present, grassland of varying lengths and water flowing through soft mud, forming pools. Additionally, the site should be above the treeline. 

The literature states that breeding may be between 615-3200 metres altitude, most commonly from 1400 - 2500 metres. Most water flows into rocky stream and river beds and with high temperatures the few, damp marshy areas were drying up but despite the challenges, we did manage to find Water Pipits at two sites.

Water Pipit, Puerto de San Glorio 23/07/2022

The first site was at the Picos heights, accessible by cable car from Fuente De. The line covers a 753m vertical drop from the second cable car station at a height of 1850m (6070ft), with the tallest mountain, Torre de Cerrado, reaching 2650m. The birds were in a broad, marshy depression close to the path away from the upper station, so at an altitude of approximately1870m. They were not close enough to photograph and soon departed as more and more tourists arrived.

First Water Pipit feeding area below Torre de Cerrado, 20/07/2022

Here Water Pipits share the habitat with Egyptian Vultures (above), 
Alpine Choughs, Black Redstarts and Alpine Accentors.

Alpine Chough

Black Redstart carrying food

A rather precocious Alpine Accentor juvenile.

Access to this site required either a 4 to 5 hour walk to climb 700m, or nerves of steel
 for the 5 minute trip each way.

The second site was on the mountain pass road of the Puerto de San Glorio, that rises to an elevation of 1609m. Here water arrives via a pipe and flows into a cattle trough, frequently spilling over to leave the surrounding grass verdant and the soil permanently wet. Here we watched a few birds, mixed with Meadow Pipit, feeding for a while. There were, of course, none of our darvics! Most were first year birds with just one adult in badly worn plumage. 

There has been a colour ringing effort to study the Water Pipits of the Picos and, like our project, the aim there is to learn more about the seasonal movements of that individual population in addition to the breeding habits. Only by developing a better understanding of birds and their life habits can we hope to conserve and protect birds in our changing environment. 

Picos Water Pipit scheme details can be found here

More Griffon Vultures were seen above the second Water Pipit site.

One solution to the question of discovering exactly where our Water Pipits go to breed is the use of geolocators, but we would need to guarantee re-traps of birds carrying the devices. We could consider funding a few geo-locators, but to get the data, it would be reliant on re-capturing the birds. The other option would be using Modus trackers, but there are no receivers at present near any of the potential breeding areas. 

Friday 15 July 2022

Sculthorpe Moor - 15th July 2022

 We dropped in to the moor today to give one of the owl boxes a look. We had checked it two days earlier but two birds flew from the box as we arrived and it was then empty on inspection. Today we took a net, ready to catch any bird that might decide to vacate once we were by the box.

The net worked in as much as it stopped birds trying to use that exit. Chris was able to get hold of one well grown youngster although another escaped from the hatch.

The dark feathering and spotted flanks point to this bird being a female. There was no remaining down and the weight was low, so it's reached the stage of learning to hunt for itself and before long will have left the parents territory.

All necessary permits held in respect of monitoring this schedule 1 species.

Total: 1

Barn Owl - 1

Thursday 14 July 2022

Sculthorpe Moor - 13th July 2022

ERB was a welcome addition to the team this morning. The temperature was forecast to get quite hot later in the day so we wanted to get nets up and down quickly and to be off site not long after midday. We succeeded in our aim, an extra pair of competent hands always helps and we processed 52 birds throughout the morning. There were frequent swathes of cloud and a cool breeze up until about 11am, unexpected but perfect for ringing.

Juvenile Treecreeper

Juvenile Coal Tit

3M Goldcrest

Leading species was Blue Tit, only just exceeding Chiffchaff. We continue to catch new Marsh Tits and Treecreepers, and there was also a single Willow Warbler and 3 Blackcaps. It still seems strange that we get so few Blackcaps now we're in Norfolk. Blackcaps used to be our 'big volume species' in South Bucks, during autumn we would get as many as this total session just of that species in catches extending to 3 figures, although of course the capture of Marsh Tits was unheard of at all of our then sites. Goes to show the value of ringing to record species demography and how monitoring records situation changes regionally and over time. 

Every bird, every session, we take data on species, age, weight, wing length, moult condition, fat carried, muscle status and breeding condition during the breeding season. Again permitting identification of changing trends when taken as part of the wider UK recorded data.  

Total: 48 (4)

Wren - 7
Robin - 3
Blackcap - 3
Chiffchaff - 9
Willow Warbler - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Marsh Tit - 3 (1)
Blue Tit - 9 (1)
Great Tit - 7 (1)
Coal Tit - 2
Treecreeper - 3

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Swift Awareness Week - 2nd to 10th July 2022

This is Swift Awareness Week (SAW), aimed at raising awareness of these fantastic birds. Swifts are in decline with numbers 53% down over the last 50 years. There is no doubt that Swifts are in trouble.

These birds are on the UK red list of endangered birds and SAW aims to encourage interest from people to ultimately reverse the decline in numbers. Common Swifts are becoming less and less frequently seen and this initiative hopes that birds will be observed and reported by non birders. If these new observers improve conditions for the birds by putting up a swift box, installing a swift brick and/or gardening for swifts to provide more airborne insects it could make a difference.

Check out the Facebook page here for special events, nest cam feeds and more information.

The following link has a great deal of useful information about providing for these fabulous birds, and a link for mapping sightings.

Sunday 3 July 2022

Sculthorpe Moor - 3rd July 2022

 A total of 41 birds on the record sheet. Great to see Chiffchaff as the leading species today supported by plenty of resident species juveniles, including Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and Kingfisher.

Age 3M Kingfisher

Only one adult, a Willow Warbler, in full moult today, but well advanced with just the four outer primaries still to drop and change as the other primaries and tail grow in.

Four to the 3, three to the 1,two to the 1, one to the 1, zero to the 4.
Adult Willow Warbler. 

The bonus bird was a darvic marked Mute Swan, not one of the two birds in the enclosure when we last visited.

Total: 36 (5)

Mute Swan - 0 (1 darvic 4ERL read in the field)
Kingfisher - 1
Wren - 4 (2)
Dunnock - 1 (1)
Blackbird - 1
Chiffchaff - 10
Willow Warbler - 1
Goldcrest - 2
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Marsh Tit - 2 (1)
Blue Tit - 6
Great Tit - 4
Treecreeper - 1

Saturday 2 July 2022

Finch House garden - June 2022

 An interesting month with many young birds spending their earlier fledged days at the start of the month, supported by parents, in the thick vegetation.

We also noticed that the resident Blackbird pair went on to a second broods really quickly with the male taking on duties with the first brood while the female brooded the second. She then was the adult usually seen with brood two after they fledged. Two rather small young were picked up and ringed, one after getting stuck in the greenhouse and the other when it fell asleep out in the open on our patio.

One of two immature Blackbirds ringed in the first week of June.

The feeding station proved particularly popular with youngsters no longer associating with their parents, predominantly Blue Tits, Great Tits and Greenfinch.

Attempts to capture larger birds resulted in 7 Black-headed Gulls ringed, darvic marked and added to the North Norfolk gull project.

Totals: 58 (22)

Black-headed gull - 7
Woodpigeon - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 0 (1)
Robin - 2 (6)
Dunnock - 5 (4)
Blackbird - 5 (6)
Blackcap - 1
Blue Tit - 13 (1)
Great Tit - 7 (2)
Starling - 1
House Sparrow - 9 (2)
Chaffinch - 1
Greenfinch - 6

Friday 1 July 2022

Deepdale Farm - 30th June 2022

 A morning with 32 captures, with the vast majority being birds hatched this year. Little wood seems to be a good place for the young birds, some having already grouped into feeding flocks and a couple of these passed through during our session, only one group finding the nets in any numbers.

Juvenile Coal Tit

It is just possible to see that the new lesser coverts are coming through as part of the post juvenile moult. The patch of feathers above the white tipped  median coverts look greyer and although it is possible to see some dark centres ( less clear here than in the hand) it is still unclear whether this bird is male or female.

A young Blackcap had already been ringed on the 11th of the month and has probably just moved a short distance from the ringing site of another group just across the road. We await details for confirmation.

The only adults were a couple of male Blackcaps, two Dunnocks and a male Whitethoat.

The Whitethroat was looking rather worn and had already started to 
moult the secondary  flight feathers with primaries no doubt soon to follow. 

Total: 29 (3)

Wren - 5
Robin - 1
Dunnock - 1 (2)
Whitethroat - 1
Blackcap - 3 (1)
Chiffchaff - 7
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 7
Great Tit - 3