20 October 2013

If you go down to the woods today ...

Yesterday was wet and windy as we were hit by an Easterly storm which made it a stay indoors day. This morning started off wet but with lighter winds. Thoughts started to turn to what birds on their migration may have been blown in and grounded by yesterday's bad weather.

As the rains eased I looked out from the house around the garden and the surrounding fields. There was definitely an increase in the number of Blackbirds about and also quite a few Redwing. Then I spotted a movement in the corner of the garden, it was a male Blackcap. Then another and another. Within a few minutes I had counted 5 males and a female. I suspect that there were more but with them flying across the garden and back and disappearing into the undergrowth it was difficult to keep track of how many birds there were.

Word on the local birding grapevine was that there were loads of Blackcaps all over the main island along with good numbers of various thrush species.

I had already received a text message from Andy last night to say that if the rain and winds eased today he would be opening the nets at his place and this morning I got a text from Colin to say that he would be going out too if the rain stopped. About an hour later Colin rang to say that he would be going to the area of woodland above Andy's place.

Colin picked me up on his way through and we arrived at the site around 1pm. As we set the nets up we could hear Robins calling and there were Blackcaps and Chiffchaff flying along the paths in front of us. There were also a number of Blackbirds feeding in the Rosa Rogosa bushes around the perimeter of the site.

We had a steady stream of birds throughout the afternoon with a total of 45 birds caught in total consisting of 42 new birds and 3 retrapped birds which had been ringed by Andy on a previous occasion.

Species caught were (retraps in brackets): Blackcap 21, Blackbird 6 (1), Wren 5, Chiffchaff 2 (1), Goldcrest 2, Mealy Redpoll 2, Robin 2 and Redwing 1.

They say that if you go down to the woods today you may be in for a surprise and we certainly were as the star bird of the afternoon and a new ringing species for me was a female Crossbill.

Female Crossbill

18 October 2013

NRBO Autumn Visit - Day 4 (16 Oct)

Today was the last day of our visit and as per the past two days started with an early morning session up at Holland House.

The wind started off light but soon picked up and there was a noticeable chill in the air. There was also the occasional short burst of light rain. This was reflected in a smaller number of birds about than the previous day. The walk up to Holland House had been much quieter with no Redwings being heard, only the occasional Lapwing and Golden Plover.

Up until breakfast time the main species being caught was Redwing, with a single Robin, a Blackbird and a retrapped Blackcap.

As is often the case something good turns up at the Obs just as you are about to start walking back there for breakfast. Today was one of those days and thankfully Mark let me borrow one of the Obs bikes so I didn't have to run. Just as I started to pedal off I heard him saying something about no brakes!!

I arrived back at the Obs in record time to get my first close up look at a bird that you would usually see only very briefly as it skulks through a gap in the reeds on the edge of a loch. The bird I'm referring to is a Water Rail.

Water Rail
 After breakfast Claire and I walked from the Obs around the coast to the hide at Gretchen Loch. On the way we saw a number of Goldcrests working their way through the stone dykes. Down on the shore there were a couple of Redshank, eight Oystercatchers, four Turnstones and 26 Shag and out on the sea were at least 20 Eider ducks.

From the hide we could see Teal and Wigeon on the wildfowl front and waders in the form of two Redshank, 15 Snipe roosting in amongst the rocks on the water's edge closest to the hide and around 200 Golden Plover over on the water's edge furthest from the hide.

It was back to the Obs for lunch followed by a short walk around the Obs before the rain arrived. The Blyth's Reed Warbler was still lurking around the small area of reed bed where it had been caught the previous day.

The end of our stay had arrived and it was time to depart for the airfield and the short flight back to Kirkwall.

A big thank you to all the Obs staff for making us welcome once again and for allowing me to join them on the ringing sessions.

One of the birds I would like to have seen was the Bluethroat which had been around the previous week but hadn't been seen by anybody during our stay. It was no surprise to hear the following day that it had been seen again in the same area as it was in last week!!

For those that have been following my posts during the week I have now added photos to the posts for Day 1 to 3 and updated the text.

15 October 2013

NRBO Autumn Visit - Day 3 (15 Oct)

Today was as forecast a day of very light winds and resulted in a long day up at Holland House, with the mist nets opened from 7am until 6.30pm. The day was spent with Alison, Kevin and Gavin and Stan joined us for the first couple of hours.

After breakfast Claire came up to Holland House for the morning to watch the ringing and see some of the birds close up, including the Redpoll which was a new bird for her.

In total over 200 birds of 17 species were caught. These were Blackbird, Blackcap, Brambling, Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Linnet, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Redpoll, Robin, Song Thrush, Wren and the Bullfinch that has been around the area for the last couple of days.

I managed to ring 40 birds across all of these species except for the Bullfinch (I was at breakfast when it was caught),the Robin, Wren and the woodpecker as these were retraps. I procesed 13 retrapped birds from seven different species.

The Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush were new ringing species for me, the latter being only the eigth record for North Ronaldsay.

Mistle Thrush

One of the Redwings was wearing a Danish ring so it will be interesting to hear a bit more about that bird in due course.

Just before breakfast word came through that a Blyth's Reed Warbler had just been caught at the Obs so we managed to get a lift back to the Obs instead of having to walk. Gavin was the lucky person to ringing it.

Blyth's Reed Warbler

Elsewhere on the island a number of interesting birds were found including an Olive-backed Pipit, an Arctic Redpoll, a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a Canada Goose which is a scarce visitor to North Ronaldsay.

NRBO Autumn Visit - Day 2 (14 Oct)

Day 2 started up at Holland House with Simon, Steph and Stan for the morning mist netting session. I don't have full details of the session however species caught included Redwing (40+), Common Redpoll (Mealy and Lesser), Goldcrest, Blackcap and Wren.

During the morning session, after Stan and I had left, Simon heard the Bullfinch that had been seen the day before but it still stayed clear of the nets. Maybe tomorrow if it is still about.

I ringed four Redwing and a Redpoll and processed a retrapped Blackcap.

After breakfast Claire and I went for a stroll along the beach between the Obs and Howar. There were a number of wader species including three Oystercatchers, 16 Sanderling, 11 Turnstones and four Ringed Plover.
There was also a flock of 20 Snow Buntings which promptly disappeared everytime they landed on the beach just above the high water mark as they blended in so well with the background.

In the afternoon I went back up to Holland House to rejoin Simon and Steph. 

During this session I ringed a Redpoll, a Blackbird, a Linnet, a Chaffinch and a another Great Spotted Woodpecker. There were also a few Blackcaps retrapped.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
The forecast is for light winds tomorrow so it will be interesting to see what turns up.

14 October 2013

NRBO Autumn Visit - Day 1 (13 Oct)

With the Autumn migration well under way I have come over to the Bird Observatory on North Ronaldsay for a few days with Claire, Stan and Margaret.

Having arrived at the Obs and dropped our kit off it was time to catch up on what was about and to have a spot of lunch before heading out. While we were having lunch I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly past the Obs heading for the quayside. It headed straight for one of the metal lighting towers and on landing, in true cartoon style, it slid down the pole as it realised it hadn't landed on a tree!!

The nets up at Holland House wouldn't be opening until 4pm so we headed over to the hide at Gretchen Loch just behind the Obs.

Here we saw a number of Teal and Wigeon, two Dunlin, a Redshank and a Golden Plover. A number of Snipe were also seen flying overhead. Also out over the East side of the island we could see a gathering of Gannets circling over the sea and a few of them diving down.

Leaving the hide we headed up the West coast towards the airfield. Along the way we saw three Jack Snipe, a Wheatear, a couple of Oystercatchers and a flock of about 200 Greylag Geese. Out of habit we scanned the flock and spotted two birds with Orange neck collars.

There has been a colour ringing project on Orkney for a few years now for Greylag Geese to try and understand the movements of the local population and on the whole they don't seem to travel very far from their breeding grounds although there have been a small number of birds that have found their way down to Norfolk for the winter.

So we wanted to read the rings on these two birds which we eventually did and got the ringing codes IBD and IBK. I thought I saw a third bird with a collar but before I could locate it in the flock something spooked them and they were away.

Continuing up the coast we saw a Grey Heron, a Goldcrest, a Peregrine and a life tick for Stan in the form of a Snow Bunting.

Snow Bunting
Out on the sea there were a few Eider and a couple of Black-throated Divers.

Turning inland we came out onto the road by Ancum Loch and set off towards Holland House. We decided to take the road down past the shop/post office and saw our first Redwings and Fieldfares. We located another flock of Greylags and a quick scan revealed that they were the same flock as seen earlier as I picked out IBD and IBK. I also spotted the third bird with a collar which was IBL. I have passed the details onto Al our Greylag colour ringing co-ordinator and will hopefuly get some info on them later.

A quick word with the Obs staff confirmed that they had colour ringed Greylags in the past but not this year.

We arrived at Holland House with about 15 minutes to spare so had a quick look around the area of derelict buildings at the rear of the property and the garden area alongside the main road. This is an area that can be good for small passerines and is always worth a scan when passing. Stan came up trumps when he spotted a male Northern Bullfinch.

The ringing session resulted in 25 birds being caught including seven Blackbirds, two Goldcrests, two Redpolls (one a Mealy the other a Lesser), a Robin, a Blackcap, a Woodpigeon, eight Linnets and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, one of which was a new one and a new ringing species for me as the last one I handled was a retrap.

Mealy Redpoll - Carduelis flammea flammea
Lesser Redpoll - Carduelis flammea cabaret

The Lesser Redpoll is smaller and darker brownish when compared to the Mealy Redpoll.

The Redpolls were also a new ringing species for me.

A dawn start for tomorrow and maybe some Redwings.

12 October 2013

A morning on South Ronaldsay

This morning I went across to Andy's place on South Ronaldsay for a ringing session with Andy and Stan.

It was a fairly quiet morning all in all but still interesting with plenty of time to study some of the birds I don't get to handle very often.

The morning started with a male Blackcap appearing in the bushes opposite Andy's ringing shed, a bird which managed to avoid the nets for the whole ringing session.

There were plenty of Wrens, Robins and Blackbirds about of which we caught five, four and two respectively. We also caught a couple of Goldcrests and the highlight of the morning a single Willow Warbler.

A total of 14 birds.

A small flock of Redwings were seen flying over the woods closely followed by a Sparrowhawk but they all managed to avoid being breakfast.

A female Hen Harrier was also seen drifting across the fields.

29 September 2013

They think it's all over ...

After we had finished at the ringing site on Deerness yesterday afternoon we headed for the reed bed for the last ringing session of the season.

As the number of Swallows was likely to be low we set one of the tape lures to play Pied Wagtails. We had tried this particular sound track before with mixed results but decided to see if it would give us any results this time.

The number of Swallows flying over the reed bed was well down on previous evenings and again they were feeding high up.

On entering the reed bed the first net was empty, the second had a solitary Swallow and the third had 7 Pied Wagtails. So the tape lure had worked this evening.

Whilst watching the ever increasing flock of Starlings doing their usual evening aerobatics display before roosting for the night, a Sparrowhawk was spotted heading straight for the flock causing it to split up into several smaller groups. The Sparrowhawk didn't seem to waste much time chasing the Starlings as it headed across the reed bed and disappeared into some nearby trees. Only to reappear a short time later and head back out over the reed bed this time joinging up with a second Sparrowhawk. But with the light starting to fade I lost sight of them against the hill behind the reed bed.

It was time to do the last net check of the season. The Swallows flying over the reed bed had dropped once again into the reeds towards the back of the reed bed so we weren't expecting to find too many birds in the nets. However we had birds in all three nets and the final catch consisted of 4 Pied Wagtails and 21 Swallows.

So the total catch for the evening was 11 Pied Wagtails and 22 Swallows.

This year's season had lasted for two months, we had 16 sessions and caught a total of 1001 birds consisting of 979 new birds and 22 retraps.

The final totals this season are:

  Species               Ringed     Retrapped     Total

  Blackbird                2                        2
  Linnet                   1                        1
  Pied Wagtail            24                       24
  Reed Bunting            21            2          23
  Sand Martin              8            1           9
  Sedge Warbler          104           13         117
  Starling                22                       22
  Swallow                791            6         797
  Thrush Nightingale       1                        1
  Willow Warbler           1                        1
  Wren                     4                        4
  Total                  979           22        1001 

The totals had been adjusted to include the sessions that I missed.

There were two new species for the reed bed this year, Linnet and the Thrush Nightingale.

So focus now moves to Autumn migrants and winter visitors but it won't be long before we start to think about watching the skies for the first signs of the returning Swallows!!

They think it's all over, well the Swallow season is now.

A couple of migrants

With the number of Autumn migrants in Orkney starting to increase Colin, Stan and myself headed for one of the ringing sites on Deerness yesterday afternoon to see what might be about.

There had been reports earlier in the day that Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) had been seen at this particular site and having already missed out on seeing one on Burray earlier in the day I was keen to see this particluar species as it would be a new life list species for me as well as a new ringing species should we happen to catch any.

The Yellow-browed Warbler breeds in Asia, East from the Urals through to China and mainly winters in the tropical South-East of Asia with small numbers appearing in Western Europe. In Orkney it is classed as an uncommon Autumn passage migrant, accidental in Spring.

This small warbler is about the same size as a Wren (9.5-10 cm) and weights in the region of 4-9g.

It has green upperparts with off-white underparts, a bold yellow stripe over each eye, prominent yellow double wing bars, black and white pattern on the tertials and long supercilia.

At first it was pretty quiet with hardly a bird to be heard. The clucking of a Blackbird, a few Golden Plover flying overhead and the churring of a Wren. After a while we started to hear a number of Yellow-browed Warblers calling and we could see them flitting about in the tops of the trees.

A check of the nets and we had caught one, giving me my first opportunity to see this smart little bird close up and also to ring it.

On the next net check we had caught a second one which Stan got to ring. It was interesting to see that the second bird looked a bit duller than the first, as can be seen in the photos below.

Yellow-browed Warbler - note the yellow eye stripe and double wing bars
Yellow-browed Warbler - note the duller plumage compared to the first bird
Yellow-browed Warbler
Further net checks only produced a single Chiffchaff, so a fairly quiet afternoon.

28 September 2013

Two for one

With light winds forecast for the morning of Thursday 26 Sep we decided to have another go at Meadow Pipits at my place as there had been good numbers still around on the Wednesday.

Colin arrived at 7am and the nets were setup. There was however a distinct lack of birds about, had the clear skies and favourable wind direction allowed a lot of the migrants to move on?

Eventually the Meadow Pipits started to appear but we only managed to catch and ring seven of them. Numbers were definitely well down on what was about yesterday.

Meanwhile over at Andy's place on South Ronaldsay Andy and Stan were having another interesting morning after Wednesday's session. A total of 18 birds trapped and ringed including Yellow-browed Warbler, Goldcrest, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird and Wren. However the highlight of the morning was a Blyth's Reed Warbler.

In the evening I joined Colin and Stan at the reedbed. There were still a couple of hundred Swallow feeding over the reedbed. A brief moment of frenzied activity within the flock occurred as a Sparrowhawk flew straight through the flock before disappearing into some nearby trees.

Soon after the flock dropped into the reedbed but further away from where our nets were. As a result we only caught three Swallows.

Having remarked earlier in the evening that all the Sedge Warblers must have now moved on, one appeared in the net just as we were about to wrap up. Surely that must be the last one for this season.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                2
  Linnet                   1
  Pied Wagtail            13
  Reed Bunting            18
  Sand Martin              8
  Sedge Warbler          104
  Starling                22
  Swallow                771
  Thrush Nightingale       1
  Willow Warbler           1
  Wren                     4
  Total                  945

25 September 2013

Change of scenery

They say a change is as good as a rest so with Easterly winds yesterday it was an early start for me and Stan this morning at Andy's place on South Ronaldsay to see what migrants might be about. The habitat here is a mixture of coniferous and decidous trees and Rosa Rogosa hedges making a pleasant change from the reed bed.

It was a bright Autumn morning with a North Easterly wind and occassional cloud just taking the heat off of the early morning sun.

In the space of about two and a half hours we caught 14 birds of 8 species as follows, retraps in []:

      Blackbird                    2
      Chaffinch                    1
      Garden Warbler               1
      Goldcrest                    2 [1]
      Great Spotted Woodpecker     1
      Reed Warbler                 1
      Robin                       [1]
      Wren                         3 [1]

The Chaffinch, Garden Warbler, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Warbler were all new ringing species for Stan and the woodpecker was a ringing first for the site.

There have been a number of Great Spotted Woodpeckers seen around Orkney over the last couple of weeks but this is the first one, I think, that has been seen in South Ronaldsay.

No sign of any Yellow Browed Warblers another species which seems to be in good numbers across Orkney at the moment.

23 September 2013

More from the reed bed

Tonight, with wind having dropped right down, Colin, Stan and myself were back in the reed bed.

There were still Swallows about but probably in the low hundreds rather than the 1000+ from Saturday evening.

The first net round produced two Sedge Warblers and a Reed Bunting.

The second net round produced another Reed Bunting, a Wren and 18 Swallows.

With the light fading and the rain starting we called it a night.

There's still a possibility of one more session during the week if there is a suitable weather opportunity before we call it quits for the season.

Totals caught this season so far:
  Blackbird                2
  Linnet                   1
  Pied Wagtail            13
  Reed Bunting            18
  Sand Martin              8
  Sedge Warbler          103
  Starling                22
  Swallow                768
  Thrush Nightingale       1
  Willow Warbler           1
  Wren                     4
  Total                  941

22 September 2013

And now the ends is near

The end I'm referring to of course is the end of this year's reed bed sessions.

Last night Colin, Stan and myself were back in the reed bed to see if there were any Swallows left after the recent winds. I wasn't feeling too hopeful. Having spent most of the day working outside at my house I hadn't seen or heard a single Swallow all day, until about 5 minutes before Stan picked me up when two zoomed across the garden heading South.

On arrival all seemed fairly quiet. As we set the nets up there was talk of whether we would get one more Sedge Warbler to make the 100 mark for the season or whether they had all left.

As Colin was setting up the last tape lure, Stan was stood just at the exit of the net run when I heard his dulcet tones callout "100" and I knew straight away that an inquisitive Sedge Warbler had popped out of the reeds straight into the net next to where Stan was standing.

As we walked out of the reed bed back to our ringing position there were a few Swallows starting to appear over the reed bed. Things were looking a bit more hopeful as their numbers increased although the first net round returned empty nets.

The Swallows were feeding high up tonight but the numbers were increasing by the minute as you could hear them as there were flying around above us. At the peak there must have been at least 1200-1300 Swallows over the reed bed. The question we were all wondering was 'Which bit of the reed bed would they drop into to roost'.

The question was soon answered when they suddenly drop into the far side of the reed bed and it all went very quiet. Then about a minute later they were all back up in the air. Something had spooked them and all eyes were on the sky looking to see if there was a raptor amongst them. Nothing was spotted and it wasn't long before they all dropped back into the reed bed for the night.

We went back to the nets for a final check, the first net was empty, the second had a single Swallow and the third net had two more Swallows and another Sedge Warbler.

So we ended the night with a total of 5 birds, two Sedge Warblers and three Swallows.

We will give it one more session during the week if there is a suitable weather opportunity but with the winds due to swing round to the North by Tuesday I think that will help the Swallows on their way and the next session will be the last session for this year.

Another sign that the season is coming to an end is that we were finished for th evening by around 8:15pm which is about two hours earlier than when we started!!

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                2
  Linnet                   1
  Pied Wagtail            13
  Reed Bunting            16
  Sand Martin              8
  Sedge Warbler          101
  Starling                22
  Swallow                750
  Thrush Nightingale       1
  Willow Warbler           1
  Wren                     3
  Total                  918

15 September 2013

Ups and Downs on the reedbed

On Friday evening (13 Sep) I was unable to join the usual team down on the reed bed due to other commitments. It turned out to be the busiest night of the season and probably the last big session of the season.

With bad weather forecast again for this weekend it was expected that there would be another big movement of birds heading off on their migration. Things got off to a slow start with just two Sedge Warblers being caught and ringed. The next net round produced 20 Swallows and a Wren. As these birds were being ringed and measured the Swallow numbers above the reed bed quickly increased until there were at least 1200+.

Subsequent net rounds resulted in another 126 Swallows being ringed.

A total of 149 birds for that session consisted of: 146 Swallows, 2 Segde Warblers and 1 Wren.

Last night (Sat 14 Sep) presented another weather window before the arrival of the storms overnight. I joined the team wondering if there would be another repeat of the previous night.

With the nets ready it was eyes to the skies and it wasn't long before Swalows started appearing over the reed bed.

The first net round produced two Sedge Warblers and a Wren. The next net round produced 17 Swallows.

There were good numbers, probably in the high hundreds, of Swallows flying over the reed bed when suddenly it all went quiet. The usual sign that the Swallows have dropped down into the reed bed to roost for the night.

Time for the final net check of the evening but unlike the previous night there were only eight Swallows and a Reed Bunting.

The total for the evening was 29 birds consisting of: 25 Swallows, 2 Sedge Warblers, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Wren.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                   2
  Linnet                      1
  Pied Wagtail               13
  Reed Bunting               16
  Sand Martin                 8
  Sedge Warbler              99
  Starling                   22
  Swallow                   747
  Thrush Nightingale          1
  Willow Warbler              1
  Wren                        3
  Total                     913

The current forecast doesn't look like there will be a drop in the wind until late next week so it will be interesting to see how many Swallows are still around.

Will there be one more Sedge Warbler lurking in the reed bed?

10 September 2013

Another reed bed surprise

Colin, Stan and myself were back out at the reed bed last Sunday evening (8 Sep). After the Northerly winds on Saturday, Swallow numbers over the reed bed were down in the low hundreds as opposed to the thousand plus of the previous week so it looks like they had taken advantaged of a favourable wind and set off on their long migration South.

Consequently the numbers actually caught in the reed bed were also down with only 10 Swallows caught and ringed. There were still a few Sedge Warblers about with another two new ones being caught and ringed and also a retrap.

There was also another surprise on one of the net rounds.

It wasn't a rarity in the Orkney sense as it is classed as an uncommon breeder and fairly common passage migrant however it is, as far as I'm aware another new species for the reed bed.

This particular bird was also a warbler but unlike the Sedge Warbler which is from the Acrocephalus family this one was from the Phylloscopus family. To be more precise a Phylloscopus trochilus better known as the Willow Warbler.

Willow Warbler
Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                    2
  Linnet                        1
  Pied Wagtail              13
  Reed Bunting             15
  Sand Martin                8
  Sedge Warbler           95
  Starling                    22
  Swallow                  576
  Thrush Nightingale       1

  Willow Warbler            1
  Wren                         2

  Total                          736

With strong winds forecast for most of the week it is looking unlikey that we will get to the reed bed anytime soon unless the weather improves. So I would imagine there may only be one more session before we finish at the reed bed for this year.

6 September 2013

Home ground

It was an early start this morning when Colin arrived at my place for a ringing session. Although I have been here for just over a year this was the first real chance to ring some birds here other than Blackbird chicks.

The forecast was for gentle winds increasing mid-morning so the plan was to set two nets in a banked area on part of my land and use an audio lure to catch some Meadow Pipits.

As soon as the nets were up and the lure on Meadow Pipits started to move into the surrounding area and soon they were sitting on the nets, the net poles and the guys. Now we justed needed them to fly into the nets. By the end of the session we had caught and ringed 17 of them. Most of the birds we caught were juveniles with a few adults.

It was interesting to see the different stages of moult between the juveniles, as can be seen from the two photos below.

In the first photo the inner three greater coverts and all the tertials have been replaced, you can see the pale edges of the feathers are light brown as opposed to the whitish buffy edges of the older feathers.

Juvenile Meadow Pipit - tertials and some greater coverts replaced
In the second photo the tertials are being replaced.

Juvenile Meadow Pipit - tertials being replaced
In addition to the Meadow Pipits we also had a second species of Pipit. The first thing that caught my eye was the yellow undersides of the feet. Now the Meadow Pipit also has yellow undersides to its feet but I hadn't really noticed it, but with this bird it stood out like a sore thumb or should that be toes!! The reason the feet colour was more pronounced, I think, was because the legs were a lot darker in colour compared to a Meadow Pipit. Its plumage was also a lot darker and it was also slightly stockier than a Meadow Pipit.

If you haven't guessed what it is yet see if this helps:

The bird in question is a Rock Pipit and was a new species for me to ring.

I also had another new species to ring. This was a bird that I had seen and heard around here throughout the summer. A bird that is probably heard long before you see it as they tend to be up quite high in the sky when they are singing. It is of course the Skylark.

We also caught one Blackbird, one House Sparrow and a young Swallow which had already been ringed. It shouldn't be a surprise if I told you it was ringed at the reed bed not too far from here about three weeks ago.

At the end of the session I had ringed 21 birds of five different species plus the retrapped Swallow. If we get another calm day sometime in the next few weeks we may have another session.

Another quieter night

After the busy night we had on Tuesday, last night Colin, Stan and myself were joined by Andy. This meant there were two A permit ringers and two trainees so if we had a large catch we could split into two teams with one extracting the birds from the nets and the other ringing them and taking all the measurements.

There were good numbers of Swallows over the reed bed again but they were feeding higher up and when it was time to roost they came down in a different part of the reed bed so we only managed a small catch.

The session resulted in 21 new birds in total consisting of 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Sedge Warblers and 18 Swallows.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                    2
  Linnet                        1
  Pied Wagtail              13
  Reed Bunting             15
  Sand Martin                8
  Sedge Warbler           92
  Starling                    22
  Swallow                  566
  Thrush Nightingale       1
  Wren                         2

After the reed bed session Andy and Stan then went to the usual Storm Petrel site on South Ronaldsay where they caught 7 new birds and 2 ringed birds.

4 September 2013

Don't look up

With the bad weather over the weekend done with, it was time to get back to the reed bed last night to see if the majority of Swallows had set off on their migration as expected.

With Stan unable to make it Colin and I were joined by Gavin from the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory.
As we were setting the nets there were a few Swallows flying about but not too many to worry about. The first net run only produced two Sedge Warblers so things looked like it was going to be a fairly quiet night.
Then the Swallows started appearing in ever increasing numbers, flying low over the reed bed. The second net check saw us extracting between 40 and 50 birds including a few more Sedge Warblers and a Pied Wagtail.

The third net check produced another 50+ birds including a Wren and a few more Sedge Warblers which was interesting as a couple of weeks ago none of this species was caught and it was thought they had all set off on their migration. This raised the question 'were there still local breeders about or were these migrants that were now passing through Orkney on their way South?'

By now the noise of the Swallows overhead was getting quite loud and on looking above us we could see well over 1000 Swallow flying around.

As there was only the three of us the decision was made to close the nets as by the time we had processed the latest catch it would be dark and we didn't want another large catch.

The session saw 102 birds in total with one retrapped Swallow and consisted of 1 Pied Wagtail, 13 Sedge Warblers, 87 Swallows and 1 Wren.
Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                    2
  Linnet                        1
  Pied Wagtail              12
  Reed Bunting             15
  Sand Martin                8
  Sedge Warbler           90
  Starling                    22
  Swallow                  548
  Thrush Nightingale       1
  Wren                         2 

As a final note, congratulations to Gavin who has just sent off his application for his C permit.

30 August 2013

More stormies

A call from Colin yesterday afternoon suggested that the weather may be suitable for some more Storm Petrel ringing. If it went ahead Stan had already agreed to go with Colin and as Andy was looking at possibly going out as I well I said I would team up with Andy.

I contacted Andy to get the details as he was looking at trying a new location on the East side of South Ronaldsay. With time and location sorted it was just a question of seeing what the weather was going to do.

A late text from Andy confirmed that it was a green light for ringing but he changed the location to our usual spot on South Ronaldsay.

I met up with Andy at 23:30 and we set the net up and got his new sound system running. We didn't have to wait long, approx 10 minutes, before the first bird was in the net. Quickly followed by the second and third. In under an hour we had caught five new birds. Things were looking good and over the next three hours we caught a further 20 birds giving us a total of 23 new birds and two retrap.

At one point there were  number of Storm Petrels flying around directly above us.

Hopefully we will try a few more sessions between now and mid-September but it won't be until probably the middle of next week as we have heavy rain and strong winds forecast through the weekend and into Tuesday.

28 August 2013

A quieter night in the reed bed

With bad weather forecast for at least the next five days we had another session in the reed bed this evening. With Brian back from his travels South he joined Colin, Stan and myself.

After the rarity from the last session it was a quieter session this time although we did have a new species for this season, but not a new one for the reed bed and nothing as exciting as the Thrush Nightingale. This little bird more often associated with our gardens was the Wren.

Swallow numbers were down on previous sessions and we are expecting the numbers to probably decrease as the bad weather pushes the birds off on their long migration South.

The session saw 38 new birds in total with no retraps and consisted of 1 Blackbird, 4 Sedge Warblers, 1 Starling, 31 Swallows and 1 Wren.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                    2
  Linnet                        1
  Pied Wagtail              11
  Reed Bunting             15
  Sand Martin                 8
  Sedge Warbler           77
  Starling                    22
  Swallow                  461
  Thrush Nightingale       1

  Wren                          1

27 August 2013

If you go down to the reedbed you might just get a surprise!!

Yesterday ended up being one of those 'burning the candle from both ends' kind of days.

Having been up in the early hours ringing Storm Petrels now it was time to head to the reedbed for the evening and some Swallow ringing.

This session was with Colin, Stan and his wife Margaret.

There were still a few Sedge Warblers about and of course Swallows. We also ringed a couple more Starlings.

On one of the nets rounds as Colin and myself went past one of the nets there was a bird that was obviously not a Swallow or Sedge Warbler and with only a quick glance in fading light I initally thought it was a Reed Warbler. We decided to leave it for Stan to extract as it would give him a new species. As we started extracting birds from the next net Colin said that it didn't look right for a Reed Warbler as it looked too big.

Once we got back to the ringing point Colin had an initial good look at the bird and confirmed it wasn't what I had thought it was and that it was something we hadn't had at the reed bed before.

As Stan had extracted the bird he would get to ring it, but first it had to be identified. We then started looking at the key features and with reference to Svensson's book 'Identification Guide to European Passerines' we started to rule various species out until we were left with one species that fitted the description.

Here in the reed bed we had caught a species that is usually found in the forests of Europe and Asia which heads to Africa for the winter. A species which has only been recorded in Orkney on seven previous occassions.

The species in question, a Thrush Nightingale.

With the bird identified it was ringed and then all the details recorded for submission to the relevant rare bird committees.

Thrush Nighting Gale - photo by me
Thrush Nightingale - photo by Stan
Thrush Nightingale - photo by Stan
As I said earlier there have only been seven records up to now for this species with the first being 30 years ago.

Previous records are:

  12-16 May 83     Graemeshall, Holm
  26-27 May 88     North Ronaldsay
  25 May 92         North Ronaldsay
  1 Sep 92           Deerness
  21 May 93         North Ronaldsay
  18 Sep 95         St Ola
  13 Oct 06          Herston

We caught 48 birds in total, consisting of 7 Sedge Warbler (including one retrap), 2 Starlings, 38 Swallows and 1 Thrush Nightingale.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                   1
  Linnet                       1

  Pied Wagtail            11
  Reed Bunting           15
  Sand Martin               8
  Sedge Warbler          73
  Starling                    21
  Swallow                  430

  Thrush Nightingale      1

The number of Sedge Warbler is now starting to tail off and hopefully we might get a Reed Warbler before the end of the season. Sand Martins and Starlings are both highest totals for the reed bed seasons.

We'll have to wait and see if there will be any more surprises lurking in the reeds.

Another Stormie session

In the early hours of yesterday morning (26 Aug) Colin and myself were back at our Storm Petrel site on Deerness. As I get to take the English Bank Holiday off it didn't matter about having a late finish if we got a good catch.

With the net set it didn't look too hopeful to start with as the sky cleared and there was just over half a moon high in the sky lighting things up. The fog didn't reduce the effects of the moon too much either.

After about half an hour we caught our first bird and there was steady trickle of one or two birds with a maximum catch of five birds over the next three hours.

In the end we caught 14 new birds continuing the theme of very few retraps. We closed the net at around 03:15 and headed for home.

Meanwhile Andy and Stan were at their ringing site on South Ronaldsay and over a similar time span they also caught 14 birds, 12 new ones and two retraps.

Hopefully there will be a few more sessions yet but the forecast isn't looking too good for the rest of this week.

23 August 2013

Reed bed session 22 Aug

After 10 days South I met up with Colin and Stan last night for a session in the reed bed.

Last week when Colin and Stan were down in the reed bed they hadn't caught any Sedge Warblers so it was looking like these birds had set off on their migration South to warmer climes. But not all of them have gone as the first bird we caught was a Sedge Warbler and we had a second one later in the evening.

As well as the usual Swallow soundtrack playing Colin also used a Pied Wagtail soundtrack as well as there has been an increase of Pied/White Wagtails on the islands over the last week and we had seen a number flying around the loch area. We saw quite a few of them flying over and dropping down into the reed bed but only managed to catch four.

One of the wagtails was an adult male who was moulting some of its primary and greater covert feathers. This gave Stan and myself a chance to practice our moult scoring. One of the other birds created some good discussion on ageing as it looked like a youngster but it had already moulted some of its greater covert feathers but not its primary feathers. Also some of its tail feathers had been replaced. As these two birds had been caught at the same time we were able to look at both birds together for comparison.

Total birds caught this session was 21 birds comprising 4 Pied Wagtails, 2 Sedge Warblers and 15 Swallows.