Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Garden, more Crossbills, recoveries and a thank you to Rex!

A short morning session at home produced just ten new birds - a Great-spotted Woodpecker, four Goldfinch, four Blue Tit and the best an adult Rook (below top)!  This is the first full-grown Rook that I have ever caught and what a fabulous bird it is in the hand.  Whilst the latest session at Leith Hill produced 15 new birds including three more Crossbill, two Siskin, two Willow Warbler and an adult male Brambling (below bottom).

I have also just received a large series of recoveries, 24 to be exact, which unsurprisingly involved a good number of Redpolls, but also a few unexpected gems!


GR16961 - ringed as an adult female at Holmwood Common on 23rd Jan 2011 and was taken into care from Dorking, 2km away, on 14th March 2011 with a fractured leg, but didn't survive its injuries.  My first Mallard that hasn't been recovered as having been shot!

GC78000 - ringed as a juvenile at Warnham LNR on 20th July 2011 and was shot 11km away on 29th Jan 2012 near Forest Green, Surrey.


DNK266 - ringed as a juvenile at Warnham LNR on 9th July 2011 and 31 days later it was caught at Queen Mary Reservoir, Surrey 41km away to the NNW on 9th Aug 2011.

Blue Tit

Y169484 - ringed as a juvenile at Warnham LNR on 6th Aug 2011, this bird was found dead in 2km away in Horsham having hit a greenhouse window only a couple of months later on 11th Nov 2011.

Great Tit

TR91666 - ringed as a nestling at Warnham LNR on 6th May 2011, this bird was taken by a cat in Horsham just 54 days later in Horsham on 29th Jun 2011.


EG15741 - ringed as a juvenile in my Warnham garden on 2nd Oct 2010, it was then found dead 20km away at Thakham, near Pulborough, West Sussex on 16th Jun 2011.  This is my first recovery of this species.


L757852 - ringed on 23rd Mar 2011 at Leith Hill and caught a fortnigfht later on 6th Apr 2011 9km away at Gomshall.

Redpoll sp.

L032848 - ringed as a 1st year male on 25th Sep 2011 at Whitwell, Derbyshire and caught 245km SSE at Leith Hill on 9th Jan 2012.

L054653 - ringed on 13th Mar 2011 at Tandridge, Surrey and caught 25km WSW at Leith Hill on 23rd Jan 2012.

L758275 - ringed as a 1st year bird at Capel on 6th Apr 2011 and caught at Beare Green as an adult male on 1st Feb 2012.

L771690 - ringed as a 1st year male on 6th Aug 2011 at Newton, Lancashire and caught at Leith Hill on 9th Jan 2012 as an adult male 339km SSE.

Y324767 - ringed on 21st Oct 2011 at Leith Hill and caught at Dungeness, Kent on 10th Nov 2011 97km ESE (map below).

Y324802 - ringed as a 1st year on 27th Oct 2011 at Leith Hill and caught at Capel on 11th Nov 2011, 3km SE.

Y324823 - ringed as a 1st year on 27th Oct 2011 at Leith Hill and caught at Icklesham, East Sussex on 1st Nov 2011 79km ESE.

Y324883 - ringed as a 1st year male at Leith Hill on 29th Oct 2011 and caught at Capel on 11th Nov 2011.

Y439009 - ringed as a 1st year on 30th Oct 2011 at Icklesham, East Sussex and caught at Leith Hill on 28th Nov 2011.

Y443956 - ringed as a 1st year at Queen Mary Reservoir, Surrey on 29th Oct 2011 and caught at Leith Hill on 16th Nov 2011.

Y469533 - ringed as a 1st year at Capel on 21st Oct 2011 and caught at Leith Hill on 16th Jan 2012, 3km NW.

Y469682 - ringed at Capel as a 1st year on 8th Nov 2011 and caught at Leith Hill on 9th Jan 2012.

Y469779 - ringed at Capel on 19th Nov 2011 as a 1st year and caught at Leith Hill on 23rd Jan 2012.

Lesser Redpoll

L484304 - ringed as a 1st year on 10th Oct 2010 at Slaley, Northumberland and caught as an adult female at Leith Hill on 29th Jan 2012 430km SSE (map below).

X786799 - ringed as a 1st year male on 30th Jan 2011 at Penrith, Cumbria and caught at Leith Hill on 29th Jan 2012 as an adult male, 421km SSE.

Y324719 - ringed as a 1st year on 21st Oct 2011 at Leith Hill and caught on 22nd Nov 2011 at Capel, 3km SE.


Y169992 - ringed as a first year female at Capel on 13th Oct 2011 and caught at Leith Hill on 9th Jan 2012.

Just as I was writing this post I got a call from my colleague Ruby at Leith Hill saying that her German Shepherd dog Rex had found a big fluffy chick in a patch of brambles whilst walking near her house.  So I dashed over and found this little guy stuck in the brambles:
Tawny Owl chick
A large oak tree standing over this bramble patch looked like the obvious place of origin, so Ruby and I dashed back to the workshop to get a ladder whilst Simon kept the bird warm.  Climbing the tree an old butt of a broken limb turned out to house a snug nest and a further two chicks (Ruby and Simon with nestlings below).  They were quickly ringed and put back in the nest and about five minutes later the heavens opened!  A lucky break that Rex found the chick as it would have got drenched and probably not survived, well done Rex!
Birds ringed:
Goldfinch - 6
Blue Tit - 4
Siskin - 2
Brambling - 1
Great Tit - 2
Chaffinch - 1
Willow Warbler - 2
Wren - 1
Great-spotted Woodpecker - 1
Blackbird - 1
Rook - 1
Crossbill - 3
Tawny Owl - 3 nestlings

Saturday, 14 April 2012


In the last week and a half I have done two sessions at Leith Hill which has probably seen the last of the Redpolls with just ten caught including one control and one retrap.  Whilst the first session produced no Siskins at all, the second produced 11 new, which were all 1st year males, and six retraps of which just one was female.  From this I can only imagine that the females are busy sitting on eggs and although fledglings have been seen elsewhere already none have been seen here yet.  Other catches new birds here included four Chiffchaffs, the first Blackcap, the first four Willow Warblers and a Brambling (below), but the highlight was 11 Crossbills.
Finally, after 16 months of watching them flying around the tree tops above my nets we have finally managed to catch Crossbills!  What a magnificent creature they are, even if they are a bit of a challenge with ageing and sexing.  Firstly, what species are they?  The three species of Crossbill that occur in Britain (Parrot, Scottish and Common) are all very tricky to tell apart as they are very similar so after a series of head and bill measurements were taken they were all within Common Crossbill, phew!  Then, what age are they, well because Crossbill can breed so early in the year (fledging as early as December or January)  normal rules don't necessarily apply because they can have two moults in one year.  If they have bred early then a first partial moult after breeding takes place by both juveniles and adults early on and the replacement feathers whether male or female will be greeny/yellow in colour.  Then in the late summer early autumn adults complete their full post breeding moult and juveniles complete their post juvenile moult with these feather colours being red for males and greeny-grey for females.  Sounds complicated but I hope this makes sense!  The following photos show some of this:

1st year juvenile Crossbill (3J):

Large amount of feathers around head replaced with new greeny/yellow ones, but streaky grey juvenile feathers still present also.

Rump still streaked with a few greeny/yellow feathers replaced above tail coverts, no unmoulted greater coverts and fresh looking flight feathers

Most body feathers replaced on underside with new greeny/yellow feathers but still a number of streaked juvenile feathers present.

1st year juvenile Crossbill (3):

This particularly yellow bird seems to be a more advanced juvenile than the previous bird in that it has undergone more of a partial moult.  Tiny flecks of juvenile plumage can just be seen on head, rump and undersides, but no moult in greater or median coverts and still fresh flight feathers.
A clear wing contrast between the particularly yellow 1st year bird and a 2nd year female.  Also note the bleaching of the tips of the 2nd year bird which shows that these feathers are a lot older than the unbleached 1st year.

2nd year female Crossbill (5F):

This was one of two birds that had a particularly orange overall plumage with the exception of the mantle and wing feathers which were green. The moult limit in the greater coverts showing contrast between six adult and four juvenile feathers gives away that this is a bird born in early 2011, whilst the highly developed brood patch shows it to be a female.

The rump in this photo is particularly orange in colour and contrasts completely with the green mantle.
2nd year female Crossbill (5F):
In contrast this is a more regular greeny/grey female, still showing the contrast in the greater coverts.
2nd year male Crossbill (5M):
A really good example of a bird that was born in very early 2011 having done a partial post-juvenile moult in the spring which is the greeny/yellow feathers on head and collar and then completed this moult in the autumn with the array of red feathers being a male, but still retaining some of the juvenile greater coverts.

Variation in feather colouring also shown in this photo of its rump and a few of the new greater coverts can be seen with a red edge rather than green. 
An interesting additional observation was that the mandibles of the cross bill didn't seem to follow a rule, in that some top mandibles crossed to the left while others to the right.

Other ringing over this period included a couple of mornings in my garden which produced 37 new birds including seven Goldfinch, seven Greenfinch, a Coal Tit (unusual here for this time of year), two Chaffinch and a Blackcap (below).
This week also saw my first nestling ringing with a nest of three Blackbird by my office (below).
Birds ringed:
Lesser Redpoll - 4
Redpoll sp. - 4
Goldfinch - 8
Brambling - 1
Blackcap - 2
Blue Tit - 17
Chaffinch - 3
Dunnock - 2
Great Tit - 4
Coal Tit - 1
Siskin - 11
Crossbill - 11
Blackbird - 3 nestlings
Song Thrush - 1
Chiffchaff - 4
Willow Warbler - 4
Long-tailed Tit - 1
Greenfinch - 7

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Kites, long bills and the first warblers

The last couple of weeks has seen an eruption of Red Kite sightings over the Leith Hill area with up to 25 individuals passing through on spring migration, whilst the first Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap have arrived back from Africa.  Also seen was a Ring Ouzel and a Stonechat at Coldharbour cricket pitch thanks to Ray Smith and Derrick Robinson.

Ringing at Leith Hill was done in three sessions with two visits to the heath and a demonstration to the Working Holiday volunteers at Henman Bunkhouse.  The two prior produced another 80 new Redpoll, but a definite change has occurred with Lessers hugely dominating the catch and the last session on 25th involved not a single retrap showing migration was fully underway.  One of these Lessers was sporting an absolutely huge bill (below top).  Other species caught included six Siskin, four Chiffchaff, a Blackbird, a Song Thrush and four more control Redpoll!  A number of the Chiffchaffs caught had a lot of olive pollen stuck to their face where they had been feeding on the nectar as a valuable food source on their migration whilst around the Mediterranean (below bottom).
Whilst the visit to Henman Bunkhouse produced just ten birds which included a Siskin, a Marsh Tit (below by Paul Stevenson), two Treecreeper, two Goldcrest and two Chiffchaff.
Marsh Tit - note the pale spot at the base of the upper mandible which is the
clincher for me in separating from Willow Tit which has an all black bill
The two visits to North River were both productive with twelve new birds on each visit which included four Goldcrest, seven Chiffchaff, a Treecreeper, a Redwing, 2 House Sparrow (below top) and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  The latter two were new species to be caught for this site and another new species was added with a control Goldfinch (below bottom) having been ringed in my garden last October.  This Goldfinch was also sporting a rather large bill.

After having consistently heard Bullfinch on our visits to North River we finally caught our first (below), but unfortunately this bird had a big case of scaly foot (a virus that creates huge growths on the legs mainly seen in Chaffinches) so obviously couldn't be ringed.

Birds ringed:
Lesser Redpoll - 49
Redpoll sp. - 24
Common Redpoll - 7
Siskin - 7
Great Tit - 3
Chaffinch - 1
Marsh Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 2
Robin - 1
Wren - 5
Goldcrest - 6
Chiffchaff - 13
Treecreeper - 3
House Sparrow - 2
Blackbird - 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Redwing - 1
Song Thrush - 2