A record of my adventures of birds and bird ringing

Thursday, 21 May 2009

More Tawnys...

The plot thickens, last night I heard a(nother?) Tawny owl calling from the trees behind my house!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


A bit of news on the tawny - I havent heard it for about 2 weeks, and was browsing through the weekly rag a few days ago when I came across an article. Apparently a Tawny owl was found dangling from a tree in a nearby park with its wing wrapped up in kite string. Poor thing! I strongly suspect this is 'my' tawny, it's certainly within the territory range and would explain why I havent heard mine in a while. In any case, the tawny has gone to a nearby birds of prey centre to recover and should hopefully be released soon.

I cant help but wonder about the ring-ability of such an owl - the ringers manual says not to ring a bird held captive for 24 hours or more, unless you get special permission, but even if I knew that this owl was definitely my tawny, it's still a wild bird and if I caught it should I treat it as such and ring it?

I got a phone call from my sister today, apparently there was an excitingly large package addressed to me sitting at home, and my mother was itching to open it! It turned out to be my newly ordered potter traps, which I expected to turn up here - never mind. They're now being sent down to me from home and hopefully I will be able to catch some of the bigger birds with them - watch out you magpies!!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

An unsucessful morning. ish.

Last night I was in two minds about trying to ring this morning. The weather forecast was 'showers' but I knew if I didnt try, the weather would have been perfect for it. On the other hand, it was a fairly massive cloud passing over Britain, and I didnt want to disrupt my sleeping pattern (exams in 5 days!).

So I got up at 5, which was my compromise - to be up at dawn rather than to have the nets set for dawn, and by 6.20 I had 2 nets set and 2 blue tits in them. The weather was just about perfect - still, overcast, birds everywhere. And then it started to rain. And it carried on raining. At first I though I'd wait 5 minutes, to see if it would ease off at all, but no hope, so I took a net down (the one surrounded by high grass and has more potential for soaking my feet/legs). I then went to take the other net down, and it had caught another blue tit, which I think doubles the number of blue tits I've caught here!

Although the total catching time cant have been more than half an hour, I caught 3 blue tits, which is a very nice rate. It's just a bit disappointing in terms of time and species diversity. Where are all my blackbirds? And why has the rain now stopped????

Friday, 8 May 2009

Squirrels 5 - Limey 1

I've just been round to do a check/refill of my feeders, and guess what, they got another one. This was, admittedly a £3 feeder from the market, so not a huge loss, but it's the principle of the thing. This feeder I had repaired, duct-taped to within an inch of its life and have spent the last week and a half watching half satisfactorily as the levels in the feeder weren't dropping by much (no squirrel predation but equally few birds feeding). This afternoon the bird-standing-on thingy was hanging by a thread of duct-tape, which had been thoroughly chewed through. The transparent plastic has been chewed as well so it's no longer in a usable condition.

I'm still not quite sure whether or not the squirrel proof feeder is working - the levels are going down, and there is certainly no sign of squirrel chewing, however it's quite a light, small feeder and I find myself thinking that they could be rocking it to make the seed fall to the ground or something. Devious beasts! If only I had enough time to watch my feeders, but alas, exam term looms in the forefront of my mind and work must take some form of priority.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Wicken Fen Standard Sites Session

Last week I'd decided too much time had past since I last ringed at Wicken Fen. I hadnt seen a warbler in the hand for about 8 months! So, hoping desperately I could still remember everything about warblers, I emailed Chris to ask if I could join them and get a lift.

The standard sites sessions at Wicken run from 12 noon one day to 12 noon the next, and seeing a chance to get a spot of revision in (half an hour breaks between net rounds really are effective for that), I decided to go for the whole weekend. A nice break from the monotony of Cambridge

All was going well until, in the middle of a page about deer eating shearwater chicks (!) to obtain calcium from their bones, Chris walked in with a bird. It was brown. It was not a sparrow, or a dunnock, or a wren, or anything that you expect to be brown. It didnt look like I remembered a garden warbler to look, but seeing as I didnt have much more of a clue, that was my first guess. Chris shook his head. I look more closely at the bird. I cant think what on earth it could be - it had a faint eye stripe, but it wasnt that strong, and its belly was slightly lighter than the upper half of its body. 'Ummm'. At this point I look at the beak. It's a very fine, elegant beak, with whiskers at the edges. Which indicated 'warbler' to me.

'Reed warbler??' I asked hopefully, even though I knew it wasnt!

'Nope'. I dragged the bird book from the bookcase. I turned it to the warblers bit and started leafing through. Nothing looks quite right.

'Try counting the tail feathers.' So I did. 10. I know there are very few birds with 10 tail feathers in Britain.

'It isn't a Cetti's warbler, but I cant remember which other species have 10 tail feathers,' I say. 'I know there's at least 2 more species.'

'What makes you so sure it isnt a Cetti's warbler?'

I thought about this for a while. I turned back to the page containing Cetti's warbler. Sure enough, there it was, slightly more distinct than the bird I was holding, but a Cetti's warbler nonetheless. For some reason, I've never imagined a Cetti's warbler to look like that. I'd never seen one before, and I guess I had this image formed in my head from half remembered images in books. It was definitely not all brown.

So the Cetti's warbler was processed (it was a retrap) and released, and I wont forget what they look like in a hurry!! This type of thing is exactly why I carry a bird book with pictures as well as Svensson and Baker. We then proceeded to catch 3 more, prompting comments about it 'raining Cetti's warblers'. There was also a big effort to discover the other species with 10 tail feathers. From memory, they are:

Occasional Barn Owls

White's Thrush (I think) has 14 tail feathers!

Please add to the list if you can think of any others - I know I've forgotten some!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, there were quite a few birds, including a collared dove, and I watched a crack in my welly as it got steadily bigger. Thankfully the ground was dry. That evening, after we'd furled the nets, we watched the woodcock flying overhead. Someone made some vague reference to moth traps, at which my ears sharpened (my other wildlife-esque hobby is moth trapping). Sure enough, there was a moth trap in the distance. So I walked over to the guy who was beating the vegetation with a net (to loosen insects) and started talking to him. He moth traps at Wicken 4-5 times a year (not very much!) but said that a lot of people each do a small amount of time. He also mentioned that you needed a license from the national trust to do so there! Then he talked about the history of the Fen a bit (of which I didnt know much), and how it was initially set up as an entomologists reserve, and about the sort of moths you generally find. It was quite interesting to hear, because you dont generally meet fellow moth trappers!

After that I retired to my tent for a very cold nights sleep. At 4am I was up and by 4.30 all packed and on my way to the reedbed.

The reedbed was dry, compared to my previous experiences with other reedbeds, which is to say, there wasnt much standing water. The mud more than compensated for this! By the first net round my cracked-wellied foot had got soaked, and it didnt get better the whole morning. The ringing tick I got, however, made up for it. We caught a male cuckoo!

The totals for the morning weren't great, we caught 16 birds overall, and all before 0730. But overall it was a good and fun weekend and I learnt (or at least remembered) a lot!