Saturday, February 27, 2010

When Blue Tits turn bad

We did some more ringing in the garden this morning. When Derek arrived it was raining steadily and we didn't think we'd be able to get any nets up at all. After a cup of coffee, things brightened up and we put up one 40' net.

We stood in the kitchen and watched birds flying over, under and round the side of the net. It was pretty dispiriting! Eventually we caught two Blue Tits and a Great Tit simultaneously, and then it got windy. So things weren't looking too good.

Fortunately, despite the wind and occasional drizzle, we did OK.

We caught two Reed Buntings (we've had as many as 15 in the garden at the same time this week), which was pretty good. This one's a male. The pale flecks on his head will soon wear away, revealing smart, plain black feathers underneath.

Reed Bunting

For a while it looked likely that the Reed Buntings would be the highlight of the morning. Then we caught this bird:

Great Tit

A Great Tit, you say. Not very interesting, surely. Well, the thing about this Great Tit is that it already had a ring, and it wasn't one that we'd put on. So it's come from somewhere else. In itself, that's interesting enough (we'll have to wait to find out where it was ringed).

The extra-interesting thing was that the ring was a size larger than normal - a B ring (AAs are the smallest, for things like Goldcrests and Willow Warblers, then As, and Bs are usually for birds like Greenfinches).

When young Great Tits are ringed in the nest as chicks (or pulli as ringers like to refer to them), they need the next ring size up. This is because their legs are actually fatter while they're developing!

The ring still fits OK now that the bird is a thinner-legged adult, but hopefully the person who ringed it will be really pleased to hear that one of their pulli has made it to adulthood. The reason that Great Tits have such huge families (up to 9 eggs) is because many of them - 62% on average - will die in their first year. So this guy has beaten the odds.

Now you want to know what happens when Blue Tits turn bad, right?

When Blue Tits turn bad

We take great care when handling birds, but it's a shame that Blue Tits do not reciprocate. Everybody thinks they're cute and fluffy, but this is the truth: they are fierce biters and nippers. It wouldn't let go and actually made Derek's finger bleed.

Anyway, here are today's totals:

  • Blue Tit, 17 (+ 4 'retraps' we'd caught before)
  • Great Tit, 11 (+ 4 retraps, including the special one)
  • Greenfinch, 1
  • Dunnock, 1
  • Reed Bunting, 2
  • Coal Tit, 2

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D

Friday, February 19, 2010


Just back from a few days in Dumfries & Galloway, in south-west Scotland. Lots of lovely stuff to see...

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels. Irresistible...

Loch Ken

Loch Ken
Lovely Loch Ken

Willow Tit
Willow Tit! This bird visited the feeding station of our host, Brian

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot
Black Guillemots fighting in Portpatrick harbour. Imagine if I'd had a 500mm lens... ;o)

Mochrum Loch
Mochrum Loch, where we watched a pair of Otters playing

We'd only stopped there for a few minutes on the offchance that there might be some ducks (there were a few Goldeneye), but then Derek spotted something 'porpoising' and it turned into a pair of Otters frolicking in the water. We watched them swim to an island, chase around a bit and then swim off out of sight. Magic...

Loch Ryan
Looking up Loch Ryan towards Ailsa Craig on the horizon

Bladnoch estuary
The River Bladnoch flowing into Wigtown Bay

Black-headed Gull
Black-headed Gull in Stranraer harbour

Svalbard, 2,000 miles this way
So the geese know which way to go from Carsethorn...

In three days of birding (with a quick visit to Leighton Moss, kind of on the way home), we notched up about 85 species, including...
  • Black Guillemots chasing around Portpatrick harbour
  • Thousands of Barnacle Geese at Mersehead
  • Lots of Pintail
  • Purple Sandpiper at Carsethorn
  • Red-breasted Mergansers and Goosanders in several places
  • Loadsa Red Kites and Buzzards
  • Willow Tit and Nuthatch at Brian's feeders
  • Slavonian Grebe, Eiders and a big flock of Scaup at Loch Ryan
  • Bittern and Little Egret at Leighton Moss

But we didn't see Sparrowhawk or Mistle Thrush.

See Flickr for more photos

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM or Canon Powershot A640

Tuesday, February 02, 2010



Another sad-but-interesting addition to my frozen menagerie - a Redwing that had died after flying into a window.

Before I put it in the freezer (for later study - not eating), I stretched out its wings and wondered about

the night-time journey on which the same feathers, muscles and bones carried it across the North Sea
where did it make landfall? Scotland? Yorkshire? Suffolk?
where it hatched last year - Sweden or Russia, perhaps?
and saw how it still had fragments of soil stuck to its toes.

I suppose it must have been foraging amongst the leaf litter until a few minutes before it died. It's really quite sad.

photo taken with Canon EOS 30D