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.