Thursday, 31 May 2012

Something to 'Crow' About

The sun blazed in a bright blue sky, the garden bloomed under its warmth, vibrant greens with splashes of brilliant colour, the pond shimmering silvery blue…finally some sunshine, some heat to the spring.

The net was up, but with the bright light very few birds were falling for that trick. One group of bird that rarely falls for any kind of trap are the corvids, a cosmopolitan group of birds that includes crow, jays, ravens, magpies and jackdaws. They are considered amongst the most intelligent birds, even some of the most intelligent of all animals having shown self awareness, counting and tool use. Of this group we most often catch Jays, but the other corvids rarely fall for mist nets or traps that we predominantly use to catch birds.

On this bright sunny day however things were different, the temptation of food and the pressures of feeding young was overriding the caution of a net. A flurry of black, the net bounces and there lying in the pocket was a small black crow with a distinctive silver sheen to the back of the head and a piercing pale eye, a Jackdaw!

A stunning Jackdaw!

With the Jackdaw released and back chattering noisily, things again quietened down in the garden… that is until another large bird bounced into the net. This time it was a carrion crow! A large forbidding looking bird, with glossy, black feathers, dark eye and thick bill, this intelligent bird is one of the most adaptable and cleverest of all.

Cracking Carrion Crow

Within the county of Clwyd, North Wales very few carrion crows are ringed each year, with none ringed in 2011 and only two in 2010! As for Jackdaws around 15-20 adult birds are ringed each year within the county… as such a more than unusual catch for this garden and region!

No messin'


Friday, 18 May 2012

A King in the Reed Bed

It's not easy getting up at 4am, especially when you know you have a full day of work ahead of you. But the weather waits for no one, and the next constant effort site (CES) ringing session at Cranwich needed to be done.

Although cool for May, the weather conditions were perfect for ringing, overcast and calm. The session proved to be a busy one, with 54 birds in total caught including 28 reed warblers our focal species. However the best bird of the session was a beautiful male kingfisher.

Beautiful adult male kingfisher

Although widespread particularly through central and southern England, the kingfisher is listed as Amber on the Birds of Conservation Concern list. This list reviews the population status of birds regularly found in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Seven quantitative criteria are used to asses the population status of each species, and each is placed on either a red, amber or green list.

The kingfisher is vulnerable to hard winters and habitat degradation through pollution and unsympathetic management of waterways, and is listed as amber due to its unfavourable conservation status in Europe.

Despite this there are still over 5000 breeding pairs in the UK and Ireland, and their flash of brilliant blue can often be glimpsed racing down a river. We don’t too many kingfishers at our sites and each time we do it’s a real treat!

Happy Rachael, the kingfisher and Barley!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Quest for Adventure

Organisation Cetacea (ORCA) is a UK based marine charity dedicated to surveying and protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) in north east European waters. Started in 2000, the charity has two aims, the first to collect sightings data on cetaceans and the second to raise awareness of these incredible animals, the threats they face and what is being done to protect them. Scientific surveys are conducted by volunteers on ferry routes from the UK once a month, with Wildlife Officers present on two routes during the summer. 

The M.V. Quest for Adventure 

Since 2007 these have been supplemented by surveys conducted on the cruise ship the Spirit of Adventure, with teams heading out on trips up to Scandinavia and Iceland, around the British Isles and down into the Mediterranean. In 2012 a new chapter to this story began, with teams now being placed aboard the Quest for Adventure. The inaugural cruise to Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland took place in May, with Lee and I on board as the survey team.

Weather conditions ranged from wet to sunny and sea states of a flat calm Force 0 to a wild Force 8, gusting to 50 knots, fortunately while we were in harbour! The ship headed out from Southampton, to Dublin, then to Londonderry, on to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, and back down to Douglas on the Isle of Man. From there we travelled to Cork, onto St Peter Port on Guernsey and finally back into Dover.

Whilst we did not perhaps pick up as many sightings  as we had hoped, with our efforts around Mull and the Isle of Man hampered by choppy seas, we did have seven sightings of harbour porpoise, one brief sighting of two common dolphins and a sighting of three bottlenose dolphin.

Harbour porpoise

In the meanwhile there were plenty of birds to keep us entertained, including a white-tailed eagle on Mull, whooper swans heading away from Londonderry and whimbrel flying over the Solent as well as feeding along the shoreline on the Isle of Man. Seabirds abounded, with the usual suspects including manx shearwaters, gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and ‘terns’ dashing across our bow. Another highlight was the black guillemots, dazzling with their beautiful black plumage, white wing patches and bright red legs.

Black guillemot

Although a tiring trip with just the two of us, we did speak with a lot of people, saw some wonderful places and caught up with friends at Sea Life Surveys who gave us a delightful, if rather damp trip out of Tobermory which produced the eagle sighting and an inquisitively close harbour porpoise. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Back to the reed bed

After days of rain, grey skies and general dampness, Monday dawned on a clear, pale blue sky, streaks of washed out pinkish orange hinting where that elusive sun would appear. The reed bed at Cranwich was brimming with water, fuller than it had been in a long time. Straw coloured reeds with fresh green shoots glowed in the morning sunshine; trees, the limbs now filling out with new green leaves, swayed over the deep, murky water.

The site is a series of old gravel pits, the excavated areas having filled with water, reeds, trees and bushes. The reeds fill the edges of these pools, fringes encircling the water and between them runs a network of paths, land bridges, now soggy and muddy from the rain. 

Cranwich reed bed 

Here a dedicated (some may call crazy) group of us run a constant effort site (CES) and a reed warbler project. The CES means we set up and run the same nets, for the same amount of time at 12 day intervals throughout the spring and summer. Standardising the ringing in this way means we can calculate changes in bird populations. The reed warbler project started in 2010 and aims to find and monitor reed warbler nests within the site in order to assess breeding success and, along with the mist netting, dispersal of young.  

Although one CES session had already been run in mid-April, at that point the reed warblers had not yet returned. With reports springing up around us of birds being back, it was time for the second visit.

As Monday morning progressed it was not just us moving around the reed bed, sloshing through the water in our waders and wellies…swifts and cuckoos had returned to the skies,  birds of all kinds were singing in the reeds and surrounding woodland, and there in our nets sedge, garden and….reed warblers! They were back…time for the carnage of a summer nesting in a reed bed to begin once more…

The focus of our nesting project...
the reed warbler