Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Weekend 13th-14th December: Shillingford

More ringing... Mmm. Penance on Saturday though: having to do Christmas shopping (aargh!).

A morning of ringing on Sunday to make up for it. 2 nets in the parents' garden resulted in a small haul of standard birds; the 5th Collared Dove ringed in this garden being the highlight. Beautiful eyes they have, when seen close-up. Ruby-red...

Beyond that, a couple of retraps of minor interest - a Starling ringed almost exactly a year ago and not seen since, and a House Sparrow ringed as a juvenile in the summer. I was also passed a recovery form - an adult Greenfinch ringed back in February was found freshly dead in a nearby garden in August. Oh well...

I've updated the links on the right - including a new blog for the Slapton ringing group. Won't be much on it for the time being, but when the season gets going, it should liven up a bit.

Monday, 8 December 2008

6th-7th December. Hennock and surrounds...

Nice weekend... We started out with a ringing session at Wray on Saturday, catching a fairly decent 20 birds. En route we had fine views of a Tawny Owl perched over the road and a couple of Woodcock beetling over. Best of them were a couple of Nuthatch and a trio of Marsh Tit, but a retrap Goldcrest from the spring was also a real pleasure. The fine and crisp weather meant the morning was simply stunning, with a light frost and almost no wind at all - quite warm enough for a handful of bumblebees to be buzzing around the ivy flowers. We also found a small patch of climbing corydalis (Corydalis claviculata) still in flower - that should have gone over in September! Bird of the day was probably the bank vole living under the stone we used as a ringing table; he/she/it scurried out to feed on a number of occasions whilst we worked.

We then headed on to Stover to meet a hashing friend of Na's, so they could apparently prepare a Christmas run. I took the opportunity to wander slowly round the lake and count the finch roost in - not very exciting, but about 250 birds in, mainly Greenfinch and Chaffinch, but a couple of Redpoll, a Goldfinch and 5 Brambling spiced the mix up.

Black-headed Gull. Not exactly rare, but nice light on it.

Some reflected pine trees in a drainage ditch: not sure whether I like the image or not. Perhaps it's worth it...

Sunday was our first attempt to ring here in Hennock, and we ended up with a catch of 47 new birds over the morning; another couple of Nuthatch and a Song Thrush probably the best of the bunch.

Nuthatch in the paw. This is a male, perhaps an adult (TF passed on some possible ageing criteria, which Svensson lacks). Sexed on a combination of rich chestnut undertail coverts and flanks (not visible in this picture) and the neat border between buff throat and white chin. The hint of a white border around the forehead also suggests male, apparently.

As I still needed some fresh air, we took ourselves off to the reservoirs to do some top-up atlassing, but again, bird of the day was a mammal: this time a Daubenton's bat feeding over Tottiford reservoir. Somewhat incongruous to see a small bat out in the midday sun over a partly-frozen reservoir!


Cold enough for a part-frozen reservoir. Nice patterns!

And finally a friendly Robin which attempted to mug us for crumbs. Poser.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wray Cleave / Pepperdon 3rd Dec '08

With the luxury of not a great deal of work to do today, I headed out to have a look round Na's patch and see what was lurking there. I stopped off at the sewage works in case the Yellow-browed W. was still lurking, but no sign again. Oh well. Plenty time yet for it to reappear.

I've not visited one side of Na's favoured stamping ground, so took the opportunity of a combination of bright crisp sunshine and frosty weather to skate over the deep mix of cowshit and mud churned up before the stiles. Nice. The time of year and the weather argued against there being many birds there, and that was the case: a few Marsh Tits sneezing at me, the odd Treecreeper and Nuthatch sidling across the branches and a nice bright Yellowhammer were the highlights, with a standard backing cast of Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Redwing, Blackbird, Chaffinch... draw your own conclusions! Flushed a couple of Roe Deer and a scumbag squirrel (sorry, cute Grey Squirrel, if you prefer - why you'd want to, I don't know). The air was a tad hazy for decent landscape photos - and my preferred camera seems to have given up the ghost. Still, below are some offerings from the day:

A bit of frost abstract from the windscreen, before I trashed it.
Proper feather patterns last night, which is nice!

The view towards Morton' from the track leading to Wray Cleave woods

Not as dramatic as the abandoned machinery in Liberia, but an abandoned 'dozer made a nice colour contrast with the trees and the field behind.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Busy, busy. Having not posted for a while, this is a quick catch-up. A couple of recent ringing trips - one to London, so Na could catch up with her old ringing group. The Saturday morning's ringing was pretty decent, with over a hundred birds caught - predominantly Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest, it seemed (a nice enough portrait of a Goldcrest from that day above). After that we froze our bums off at Staines reservoirs for the fun of it, though there was little enough to see: a handful of Ruddy Duck and a few Goldeneye were the highlight. An evening visit to a local pub for a celebratory birthday dinner with a friend, then the day was capped off with an overnight snowfall... "It always snows on my birthday..." was Na's comment!

Sunday started lazily - pelting with rain, so we stayed in bed and stuffed a late scrambled-egg breakfast; then headed back via Virginia Water (Mandarins, dogs, walkers, screaming kids...) to Exeter, for a week's house-sit whilst my parents sunned themselves in Spain with youngest sister. Uneventful week. Then last weekend we had the annual ringing session in the orchard across the road from the parents' house, in search of Fieldfare. Whilst that was relatively unsuccessful (only one FF), we did catch a good selection of Blackbird, including a bird ringed during the previous session, last November.

Back in Hennock, and the local birds have taken to the feeders on the veranda in a big way - we now have Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin coming to crumbs on the ground, with a selection of tits, Nuthatch and House Sparrow on the hanging feeders. Garden list hasn't grown much though! Next task is to get some more atlas squares done - of which, more later...

Thursday, 13 November 2008


As it's manking with rain today, I'm posting a couple of pictures of the local area and its wildlife.

First of all, however, a very, very manky picture of the 2w drake King Eider in North Devon - partly just to 'prove I was there', partly to show he's a far better-looking bloke than he was at the beginning of this year, bless him. At the start of the year he looked very much like this (links to Birdguides website). Now he looks like this:

Or, if you want to see something that doesn't look like it was taken through a milk bottle by a myopic woodlouse, try this lot... Anyway. That's enough about top shelf birds. On to some local info. This is the sort of countryside we're living in:

As you can see, fairly pastoral and green. At the moment we're seeing a lot of corvids (Rook, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and Jay in order of abundance), Woodpigeon and Herring Gull. As far as the smaller stuff goes, there seem to be plenty of Blackbird and Redwing around at the moment, with the usual common garden birds like Blue, Great and Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Robin, Dunnock, blah, blah, blah... We're also getting regular Grey and Pied Wagtail around the cattle in the field below us, with occasional Meadow Pipit dropping in. I'll have to start a patch list at this rate! This is the -already famous, har har - sewage works down the road:

Which holds pretty much what you'd expect: Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, these chaps:

...and the Yellow-browed. I spent a while at the gate yesterday watching it, making sure it wasn't a Hume's YBW (no luck, more's the pity). I suppose my next task will be to try and get some pictures. Totally failed to pick up Firecrest as well - but there must be one around here somewhere, I'm sure. New for my new site yesterday were a Kestrel and a Jay.

And just for Mark, cos I'm sure he misses them, this was outside the front door about 10 minutes ago:

(Eurasian) Nuthatch Sitta europaea - it's blurred because I was photographing at 1/40th of a second through our front door glass.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Settling in...

Finally we have a working house - the bed, freezer and washing machine all arrived safe and sound yesterday. As we've both come down with a heavy cold, we're both lurking at home most of the time. The garden bird list has increased gradually to a grand 22 species, with the addition of (Eurasian) Jay and Grey Wagtail today - still only four species visiting the feeders though - two common parids - Blue and Great T., House Sparrow and (European) Robin.

Na dragged me out for a short walk today, down the hill to the sewage works - where we duly found bird of the year for Hennock, I would imagine: a Yellow-browed Warbler. Not a bad way to christen the place really. We'll be waiting for it to turn up in the garden, as we're only a short hop up the hill for a Phyllosc...

Back to work now, I suppose...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Movin' house

Well, it's happened. Aside from delivery of a new bed (Monday) and washing machine & freezer (today, I hope!), we're in and settled. Oh, and we need a dining table & chairs and a kettle, but that's incidental... We're on the edge of Dartmoor in a 2-bed cottage (you can stay over now, should you be passing through, Mark!) with our own garden...

The celebratory welcome-to-your-new-house dinner was provided by an unfortunate Snipe I found on the road - still warm, I hasten to add. (Some of the pics below contain a wee bit of real-life guts - you have been warned!)

Nice innocuous view of the back of the bird. Note the kitchen knives ready & waiting...

Spreading the wing to view the upperwing. Knives getting closer...

...and some detail of the upperwing. Gore up next...

Overall view of the underside of the prospective dinner.

Bit of underwing action: looks pretty dark, but not Wilson's Snipe - but imagine that bombing past you in dull winter light and you might be forgiven for thinking it had darker underwings than it actually does.

A closer view of the underwing. The barring is nearly, nearly, as nice as that on Green Sandpiper.

And a bit more detail of that underwing.

Some information about ageing Common Snipe can be found in Ringing & Migration (a pdf web link here: http://blx1.bto.org/pdf/ringmigration/23_4/kaczmarek-colour.pdf). It would appear that this could be a young bird, but equally it might also be an adult which has finished moulting! As it's the first Snipe I've seen in the hand, I would be cautious about putting an age to it...

Some more pics below - Na's sister Jo, her husband Arturo and the children on their first visit to our place. Top pic is me apparently putting in some practice for future fatherhood (*cough!* *splutter!*)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Autumn days & fungi...

Hm. Been busy since the last post. Wednesday was spent on a bat-finding course; all very interesting and a quartet of nice species seen in the various roosts visited: Whiskered, Brown Long-eared, Lesser Horseshoe and Common Pipistrelle. Not a lot to say about the day, beyond the fact that it was fascinating. Future visits and future updates on bat work will follow...

Quick visit to Cambridge for some work (and good GRIEF it's boring driving up and back) - enlivened by a Red Kite en route...

Today I met Na for a wander in the woods (not a euphemism, I hasten to add). Her friend Kim accompanied. A saunter around the Bovey valley woodlands produced few interesting birds, although our first Redwing (Turdus iliacus) of the autumn were pleasant sounds: always nice to hear them tseer-ing overhead. Warm enough for some inverts to still be in flight, with a colony of mining bees a pleasant diversion for a short while. The highlight of the walk, though, was the variety of fungi on the stumps, branches and soil - well into the double figures for variety of shape and form - presuming all were different species. Some photos of them below; all mercifully unidentified! We also saw another of the leaf-type lichens, similar to that from Rifton the other day...

The lichen first: had to climb the bridge over the Bovey and cling to the relevant tree to get near enough for even this shot. If you care to scroll to the Rifton picture, you can see the difference in the shape of the spore capsules - I assume this means they're different species...

The final fungus of the day, shown first - I'm being contrary. 

A bracket fungus on a treestump...

On the trunk of said tree, these were growing...

...as were these.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Weekend news...

Not a lot happened this weekend. We took advantage of a good spell of weather to ring at Slapton again, catching a whole host of Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest in particular. The Long-tails were particularly interesting, in that we caught over 40 of them, with a good dozen retraps, which included birds ringed in ~2003, 2004 and 2005. Not a bad lifespan for such a small and apparently fragile bird. They seem to be coping admirably with the recent run of poor springs and summers.

Sunday found Na and myself wandering around Berry Head in a stiff southwest wind, searching somewhat casually for some migrants. The weather didn't help much, but we managed a brief female Merlin, which apparently came in off the sea and headed inland rapidly.

A search of the quarry and a cup of tea at the seawatch point provided prolonged views of a pale-phase adult and a very gingery juvenile Arctic Skua harassing Kittiwake offshore - the 200 or so kitts preferring to loaf in the sunshine just offshore with the skuas lurking in the midst of the flock - every so often the skuas would decide it was time to see if someone else was ripe for hassle, and roll off the sea, raising the entire flock in the process: a fine sight in yellowish autumn sunshine.

We finished off with a tour of Brixham breakwater, to see if the winter flock of Purple Sandpiper had returned, which they have - around 10 snoozing on the old fishing pier off the end of the breakwater. Cracking little birds... No pictures today though; sorry.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Some pics from this morning's training session... Insert appropriate cooing and 'aaw's wherever you wish.
Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius. A torpid male (look, you can see his bits just above the tail tip there - heh! Rodent porn!). This chap was interesting, as he appears to be re-growing his tail. Weighed a healthy 20 grams, so should see the winter through happily. The critical weight appears to be about 11-12 grams.

Cate (with dormouse) & Na (with his house in a bag) rummaging.

One of a selection of fungi we found today - perhaps a porcelain fungus?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Not an advert, but...

Heh! Looking at the Clustrmap for to see where people might be reading this (more than I expected - a whole 86 people since whenever I got the map installed! Weird...); click the wee map lower down on the right of this page & you'll see it. . Anyway, I digress. On the map page there is usually an advert, and in case it's changed when / if you look at it, here it is:

Amazing what you can do digitally now, isn't it? Cosmetic dentistry via fibreoptic cable... Maybe they strip down the wires coming through the phoneline & use them to scour your teeth down... Beats hell out of internet dating, to my mind - far more enterprising. And is it me, or does the geezer appear to have been photoshopped into a whiter smile? Skin tones seem suspiciously different...

As if anyone really cares...

I'm off to do some bird-ringing now, so don't expect me to write anything for a while.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Cleaning nestboxes - niiice...

Spent today cleaning out the nestboxes in mid-Devon, which are up as a Pied Flycatcher 'RAS' project. RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) basically involves long-term monitoring, of Pied Flycatcher nestboxes in this case, over several years. Young birds are ringed and adults retrapped each year to monitor their survival and movements both within and between sites over the years. Interesting stuff, but the end of the year is the grim bit - cleaning out the nestboxes and checking for the chicks which failed to make it. This summer seemed to be fairly good, as we found just a handful of decomposed corpses in the boxes, as well as a couple of nests with unhatched eggs. However, it's also the most important bit - now we know the boxes are clean and ready for whoever wishes to roost there over winter - including dormice! The day was enlivened by the constant squeakings of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests, with the odd Raven 'gronking' overhead.

Best find of the day was this rather fine lichen, fruiting away on a fallen tree:

I'll name it when I can!

I've also finally managed to upload a few more pictures from the Isle of Man work this summer on www.jerbarker.co.uk - feel free to have a wander over!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Greyish Willow Warblers and sundry others

Well. Since the last post it's been a decidedly busy ol' time. The mysterious N and myself have decided to search for somewhere to live - I'm joining her to look at a flat in Chudleigh later - and have spent the last couple of weekends doing a spot of seasonal bird-ringing. Our exploits took us first to one of her Dartmoor sites, where we caught almost sack-all. Almost... We did catch a rather grey Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), perhaps not as grey as those discussed by 'fat Paul Scholes', but decidedly duller than our local birds. Interestingly, it looked rather Chiffchaff-like in the field, without reasonably close scrutiny. Wonder how many others go misidentified?
OK, it's a slightly overexposed picture, but you can see the colder, rather greyish tones to the bird.
Slightly greener around the rump and on the remige/remix fringes. Perhaps an intergrade towards 'acredula'?

Last weekend we returned to the ever-dependable Slapton. Our brief holiday from the site allowed the jammy gits to trap, ring and photograph in glorious technicolour, the site's first Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola) since 2003. Arse. Fortunately the bird has been lurking in the same area ever since, allowing us to catch brief - in fact almost unidentifiable - views between net rounds. As usual, the bulk of the ringing was Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), but some more porky Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and Sedge Warblers (Acr. schoenobaenus) were also trapped and ringed. Birds of the weekend were a smart adult female Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus), a late Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) and a couple of Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis); the latter are rarely caught at Slapton, perhaps because we don't make enough effort for them! Too busy to take pictures, I'm afraid, so you'll have to imagine them!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Austria - part III

Where have I got to? OK... We continued on the bicycles for the 27th, by which time we were a bit fed up with them for two reasons: the first that our bums were as sore as a very sore thing, the second being N's attempt to embed me in the tarmac of the BDA-Prellenkirchen road using a blunt instrument (articulated lorry - taking the piss somewhat, I think) - all for the sake of a flock of Tree Sparrows, for pity's sake! No harm done in the end, beyond a bit of blood and some shaky legs, so... We made a circuit of the Spitzerberg this day - yet another calcareous grassland/scrub mix, by now concentrating on plants and butterflies, particularly searching for the Hermit (Charaxes briseis); which again I failed to find. Oh well. Maybe next year? The butterflies and birds were much the same as the previous couple of sites, so I won't bore you with them any further.

Our route around the Spitzerberg

The morning of August 28th saw us hit a couple of sites for Great Bustard (Otis tarda) and Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca). We managed a couple of female bustards lurking in their usual field, but the eagles - along with most other raptor species - remained frustratingly elusive. We did see a Black Woodpecker in a slightly unexpected patch of woodland, so that made up for it a bit. The type of woodland made the sighting unexpected, not the woodland itself: we'd been sat in its shade for about 2 hours by that stage, so that would just have been plain stupid. Obviously something we're not.


We then returned to the house and gathered our crap together for an extended stay at the Vogelberingungsstation on the Anlandebecken at Hohenau an der March. In plain English, that's the bird-ringing station at the settling ponds at Hohenau. The Kuehlteich - previously such a cracking site for birds in this corner of the world it was designated part of Austria's Natura 2000 network, is now dry for the second year in a row, and in the process of being turned into a carp-fishing pond. Presumably this will mean the site is de-listed, which will only add to Austria's problems in terms of lack of designated Natura 2000 sites, but I digress. The upshot is that the site is far less attractive to waterfowl and waders, so our highlight in this respect was the continual presence of a pair of Ferruginous Duck (Aythya ferruginea) on one of the 'zwischenlagen' and a Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), which promptly hoofed it after our first day. N and I made a quick tour of the net-rides so she could familiarise herself with the site and some of it's birds, and we began to settle in.

Thrush Nightingale and Common Nightingale - a comparison

The standard fare over the next few days was pretty normal: small numbers of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) passing south over us, a variety of soaring raptors each day; including Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Red and Black Kites (Milvus milvus and M. migrans) and White-tailed Eagle (Haliaetus albicilla), and a steady passage of Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). The first weekend also provided a few decent birds to spice things up a bit: daily groups of Bee-eater and a cracking Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia) in the nets on the first morning - handily coming in with a Common Nightingale (L. megarhynchos) to provide a nice comparison! Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio) appeared to be trundling through steadily and the resident pair of Great Grey Shrike (L. excubitor) were frequently hunting in the field opposite the cabin. Blah, blah, blah...

We decided to stay at the ringing station between the two weekends' work, so we could explore the surroundings in a little more detail. This takes us to September 2nd: a cycle tour into Slovakia.

I've always wanted to know what the countryside was like on the eastern side of the river March. Now I know: it's bloody beautiful! Far less industrial agriculture than on the Austrian side, the floodplain hay meadows on the Slovakian side are a Ramsar site in their own right (see http://ramsar.wetlands.org/Database/Searchforsites/tabid/765/Default.aspx for the Ramsar site overview). Our short foray into the country yielded 61 species of bird, including 5 woodpecker species (Black, Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted, and Green; we also heard Grey-headed at Hohenau), numerous Bee-eaters, a late juvenile Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), 9 species of raptor - including White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and Saker (Falco cherrug) - Black Stork, Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) and Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)! We also found ourselves cycling the ominously-named 'Iron Curtain Cycle Route', which was rather beautiful, in the end.

'Bird of the day' title went, however, to the rather confused-looking young dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) that we nearly flattened on the road. Who said dormice don't ever touch the ground?!

Caterpillar of Comma Polygonum c-album
On the 3rd of September, we opted to try the other neighbouring country: the Czech Republic. We headed north of Hohenau, across the Berhnardsthaler platte to the village of Bernhardsthal. The route was designed to take in what is a stunning area for soaring raptors. The prime target was Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)... The first birds to appear when we hit the plateau were Marsh Harrier, quickly followed by both Red Kite and Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). A pit-stop was suggested by N, which was rapidly turned into an extended raptor-viewing session: a pair of adult Imperial Eagles began to circle up from the fields in front of us, to be joined by Common Kestrel, Buzzard, Marsh and Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)! When we tore ourselves away and headed north, we were treated to a further 3 Imperials - all juveniles - and a trio of Saker, all accompanied by a slew of more common raptors and the odd Black Stork here & there.

Montage of 2 juvenile Imperial Eagles, Bernhardsthaler Platte

We trolled on into the Czech Republic (second new country in two days for me) and made a quick circuit in the countryside south of Breclav. Nice, but somehow not as superb as the Slovakian day trip. Instead of the lush hay meadows and deciduous floodplain forest, we were travelling through young pine plantation and oak woodland on somewhat sandy soil. Rather like parts of Spain, in my experience. The return route was uneventful, travelling down the Thaya and the March to Rabensburg, then back along the road to the ringing station.

N returns to Austria, from the Czech Republic

The second weekend at Hohenau was much as the first; a more autumnal feeling was in the air, with the first Robin (Erithacus rubecula) and Dunnock (Prunella modularis) turning up in the nets. I was also able to take up an opportunity of joining a student working on the dragonfly diversity of the floodplain forests of the March, who took me round four transects in Droesing. Our total of twelve species included one new to me - Lestes virens - and one new to her - Sympetrum flaveolum.

Western Willow Emerald (Lestes (or Chalcolestes) viridis)

Female Small Spreadwing (Lestes virens)

Cricket sp (Phaneroptera falcata?)

Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)

I'll post a full trip report with species lists at some stage on www.jerbarker.co.uk...