Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nestbox update

Spent six hours on site yesterday – nice and tiring. Checked all 150 nest boxes and only suffered one flea – and no bites. Ringed one pullus Song Thrush, and the two eggs from the Blackbirds nest had been predated – squirrels my guess. Didn’t see any other evidence of nesting - but them again didn’t have much time for it.

The end results were: 18 sitting Great Tits and 11 Blue Tits with a further 17 unspecified (call that unidentified) tit nests. 25 Pied Flycatcher building (no eggs) with one definite Redstart and one Nuthatch; a further 25 boxes had evidence of early building activity.

The Pied Flys and Redstarts have only been in just over a week so am hopeful of further occupancy by them.

Upset the local Ravens and Buzzards - but I don’t intend climbing up to the nests even if I find them so they’ll just have to continue to be unrewardingly noisy. Cuckoos were in and have five singing Willow Warblers, but the Chiffchaffs all seem to have gone quiet now only revealing their presence by alarm calling when I’m near their nest site.

Back again next weekend but I anticipate it’ll be another 10 days or so before ringing commences. In the picture spot the nestbox.

Another theory

From the Journal of Electronmagnetic Biology and Medicine. Researchers in Belgium have published data, from 150 locations, showing that the stronger the signal output from a mobile phone mast the less likely one is to find House Sparrows. Their hypothesis was that the longer the bird is exposed to radiation the more likely that behaviour would be affected. They state that the electromagnetic energy could upset the birds’ navigational systems and that prolonged exposure may actually electrically charge their feathers causing a change in behaviour.
I wonder why they centred on House Sparrows and not all birds in general. Although sparrows may be more susceptible, thus demonstrating changes quicker and more markedly than other birds, one might assume that all birds would be navigationally affected and thus in lower numbers around the phone masts.
I wonder if they will be making a claim on the Daily Telegraph reward for indicating 'the' cause of the decline in House Sparrow numbers.
Picture from:

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bird Atlas 2007-2011

Events are moving on.
Of the £1M plus needed to finalise this study over £300, 000 has already been raised. Fliers are being printed and posted inviting interested individuals to contribute- financially - to this study.
Me, I leave that to others, my concern is to get the work undertaken by cajoling, encouraging, pleading, and in some case 'threatening' (only my friends you understand) volunteers to take to the field. Survey work is due to start in November 2007 and the 'Bird Atlas' website will be going live soon when the big push will be on to place volunteers with tetrads for surveying. Already individuals are jumping before being pushed and are contacting me 'requesting' particular tetrads which they are willing to survey. The good point is the choice is yours - so long as no one else has got to it first you can pick anyone you like - need I say more, you get the hint!
It will be an exciting time - not only because we will be contributing to the National Atlas, but also because we will be producing data to compare to the local Atlas of 1997-2000. So, now only will we find out what has changed nationally, but we'll also be able to undertake it on a more local scale too.

interesting though

Some time ago (see December 2006) I posted the idea that Great Tits sing both faster and at higher pitch in order to communicate in their noisey urban environments. Now it seems that Robins have adapted also - but in a different way. Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that Robins make an active decision to sing at night, when noise levels are lower, rather than be out-competed by trucks and cars etc during the day.
Often trotted out is that birds sing at night because of the effects of light-pollution, tricking them into a longer 'day' with singing at night. Researchers tested nocturnal light and daytime noise as variables and found that daytime noise had a stronger effect on behaviour than nighttime light.
So my next question is: what influences Blackbirds to sing at night, while Mistle Thrushes still persist in singing as loud as possible during the day? Have they adapted in some way?
Image taken from:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

more things with wings

I have just returned from a Regional Network Meeting in Thetford where we discuss, consider and debate all BTO actions and how they may /may not impact on volunteers. It is also a time to meet staff and get an update on future events. One of these events is another collaboration, this time with Butterfly Conservation.
Currently developmental work is being undertaken in Cambridge and Dorset to ascertain whether BBS plots - because of their random nature of selection - can be used to determine distribution and abundance of the commonest types of butterflies. If this work comes to fruition it may be such that some BTO volunteers may be asked if they would like to return to their BBS plots (once in July, once in Aug) - this time to note down butterflies seen (but not heard!).
My trip also had other benefits - it was the first time I have seen Stone Curlew in this country, and I heard my first Cuckoo of the year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bumblebees and GBW

As a new initiative the BTO Garden Birdwatch Scheme has teamed up with The Bumblebee Conservation Trust in order to recruit the 16000 GBW members to not only record the birds in their back gardens, but also the bumblebees.
This initiative is much in keeping with the successful collaboration that resulted when BBS volunteers teamed up with The Mammal Society in order to record mammals seen on their survey plots.
There are very few bumblebee recorders and, as such, distribution maps are poor or non-existent. So, when you're sat in the back garden watching the BBQ burn down, or you're out with the dog, or simply tramping the fields, spare a thought for the bees and butterflies and give them a second glace and a look. Bumblebee information packs are available from GBW at
There are only six major bumbles, five rarer species and three Cuckoo Bumbles so mastering i.d. shouldn't be that difficult.

( The bee in the picture is a Common Carder

2006 Winners and Losers from CES

CES - constant effort site - is a ringing protocol, standardised from year to year, enabling the production of adult survival rates and breeding productivity to be calculated. Figures are produced both nationally and locally and here are the figures just released for the North West.
For adult numbers there was only one increase on the index (compared to 2005) and that was for Whitethroat up +58. Significant declines were noted for Blackcap (-10) Robin (-14) Great Tit (-15) Bullfinch (-16) and Blue Tit (-25). I find these figures to be a little strange as there has been on noticeable differences in adult Blue and Great Tit capture rates for Merseyside Ringing Group and, in fact, this year has been my best ever for the capture of Bullfinches.
Productivity produces another set of ups and downs. Chiffchaff (-21), Wren (-28) Dunnock (-21) and Cetti's Warbler (-62) all continue their declines; both in comparison to 2005 and also against the 1983-2005 average. Blue Tit (+67) is the biggest climber, followed by Great Tit (+32) and then Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Blackbird, all with increases in the twenties.
The 2005 increase in Greenfinches appears to have slowed and the decrease in Reed Buntings not reaching significance this year.

The map shows the location of ringers in the NW, by address not ringing site (red dots), and sites registered for CES (grey dots)

A free copy of the most recent CES News can be found at:

Monday, April 16, 2007

they're in

I always thought Birdtrack was an excellent idea, it was just the thought of entering yet another set of records into another computer file to send off to another dataset. For me it was straw and camels! - but I do look forward to a phenology based migration atlas in due course.
However, I must record my gratitude to those who do have, and take, the time and trouble to enter their results into Birdtrack because, if they didn't, we wouldn't have this: the week 8-14th April 2007 and national Pied Flys sightings. Thank you - they're back.

Ceratophyllus gallinae

While doing the rounds this Saturday at the Pied Fly site in Wales we had recourse to move one of the nest-boxes from a site where it had not been used regularly to a new, hopefully more productive position. Carrying said box from a to b was quite easy - just hook a figure into the entrance hole and carry it - easy. It wasn't until about 10 minutes later we realised the absolute error in our simplicity - Ceratophyllus gallinae - the little bu**ers were everywhere! (as I sit here itching every little encounter).

This flea over-winters in a larval stage within a nest box (that's why we clear them out every autumn) before emerging with the warmth of spring. Then, if they do not find a blood meal quickly from their bird host they start to move around to feed their hunger. Enter one ringer and mate, sitting targets for hungry fleas.
As the literature states - no small comfort when you've already been bitten to death - they do not live long outside of the nest environment and believe you me these critters didn't live long at all.
So, ringing is not all sweetness and light, you do have to suffer a little on the way. However all that will be forgotten when the Pied Fly's and Redstarts arrive back.

Oh yes, picture not to scale (thankfully).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Hurrah for spring

The year is now getting into its proper swing with survey work starting this month. Already I have received early returns from the Heronries census and Breeding Bird survey, and I have already started three nest record cards – Blue Tit, Song Thrush and Coot. A ringing session last weekend resulted in three mist-netted Chiffchaff – all returning juvenile males; and several species caught were also starting to demonstrate the beginnings of brood patches.

This weekend I have visited my newly acquired Pied Flycatcher nest box project (approx 140 boxes) in North Wales - making preparations and undertaking repairs ready for when the Flycatchers and Redstarts return. The picture gives a flavour of the site and I shall give you more details of breeding successes
as the year progresses. According to Birdtrack a Pied Flycatcher has already been sighted in south Wales.

Today I was out with other members of Merseyside Ringing Group visiting one of the many heronries in north Cheshire - this one being at Budworth Mere Marbury. Although several trees were climbed, and nests examined, only two birds were ringed – the rest either being too small or too large, with some nests still having eggs. The next three - four weeks will witness more visits to all the heronries in order to ring the pulli as they mature.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The longest non-stop flight – no joke.

April 1st has come and gone and this story is still in the news – I’m now convinced it’s not a joke.

E7, a female Bar-tailed Godwit, using satellite tracking, has just performed the longest recorded non-stop flight – 6,341 miles. Flying at an average speed of 35mph at heights of up to 2km she has just flow from Coromandel Peninsular in New Zealand to Yalu Jiang mudflats in North Korea.

The route took her north across the Tasman Sea, east of Papua New Guinea, north past the island of Guam and onto the mouth of the Yellow Sea and North Korea. All of this non-stop – flying for just on a week. The next stage is a mere 5,000 miles on to Alaskan breeding grounds.

To convert this achievement on a pound for pound basis it is the equivalent of a jumbo jet (747) flying non-stop around the world 54 times.