Spring Has Sprung!

First light found a group of seven SRG members gathered on the South Shropshire Hills for an early morning spring-trapping session. We were greeted by the calls of a Red Grouse telling us to ‘go-back, go-back, go-back….’, but we decided to stay!

Summer migrants seemed to have arrived in pretty good numbers, Willow warblers were particularly abundant, with singing males atop many of the Hawthorns and Birches and several Tree Pipits were noted.

IMG_5649 copy Spring Trap

Spring-traps are an excellent method for trapping birds that are otherwise difficult to trap in conventional mist-nets or in situations where it would be difficult to sensibly site a mist-net. They work particularly well for insect eating species such as chats and flycatchers.

The method involves a  small flip-over net, powered by a light spring which is triggered by the bird itself when it attempts to take the bait from the trap (in this case mealworms).

The catch from the spring traps today involved two pristine male Whinchats (who will have recently returned, having spent the winter in Africa), a female Stonechat and a Robin.

IMG_5638 copy Male Whinchat.

IMG_5644 copy Female Stonechat.

One eighteen metre mist-net was also in operation which resulted in the trapping and ringing of three of the many Willow warblers that were present.

IMG_5648 copy Willow Warbler.

The ringing, and subsequent recaptures, provides important information about return rates, site fidelity, survival rates and population dynamics of these summer migrants, many of which have been in long term decline.


……….and Still They Come!!

Gerry, Ted, Colin, Peter and myself spent the day mist-netting at Whixall Moss where the early winter passage of Lesser Redpoll continues unabated.

A total of thirty-three birds were trapped and ringed/processed today, of which, twenty-four were Lesser redpoll.

redpoll femFemale Lesser Redpoll

redpoll maleMale Lesser Redpoll

The remainder of the catch comprised 1 Blackbird, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Willow Tit, 1 Great tit and 2 Long-tailed Tit.

The Chiffchaff caught today were, surprisingly, both retraps, the Belgian ringed bird from 22/11 and the bird from 15/11, which although originally considered to be of the regular race , Phylloscopus collybitta, on more detailed consideration of the plumage characters and biometric measurements has now been reassigned as being of the Scandinavian race, Phylloscopus abietinus (see previous posts). This means that in recent weeks Chiffchaffs of three distinctive races have been trapped and ringed at Whixall Moss!

The Willow Tit trapped today was also a retrap (L798176).

willow titWillow Tit (L798176)

Willow Tits are in serious decline nationally and Whixall Moss is one of very few sites within Shropshire where this species can be reasonably reliably found.

One Jack But No Frost!

Last night saw Paul and myself out for our first Woodcock lamping session of the winter on one of our private sites in North Shropshire along with guest, Scott Petrek, who is keen to gain experience of the technique with a view to putting it into practice on some of his sites over the border in Staffordshire.

It was unseasonably mild, but a good dark night and with a comparative lack of ‘squelch’ under foot so we were optimistic of our chances of catching a few birds. Our optimism was rewarded with a total of seven Woodcock (from a total of eleven seen) being caught, ringed, processed and released. All were new birds and the evenings catch comprised of five juveniles and two adults.

In addition to the Woodcock we also caught and ringed a stunning Jack Snipe, which was a welcome first for our lamping team.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe.

In general Woodcock numbers were low compared to previous seasons with several of our previously reliable fields devoid of birds. Hopefully if winter weather starts to bite on the continent we can expect to see a further influx on the next Woodcock Moon!

Whixall Sprouts Yet Another Winter Chiffchaff!!

We were met with near perfect catching conditions when Gerry, Ted, Peter and myself met at Whixall Moss this morning, it being dry (after overnight rain!) and with little to no breeze to contend with.

The two usual mist-net runs were set comprising one run of 3 x 18m nets and a second run comprising 1 x 18m and 1 x 12m net with the primary aim of continuing our targeted Lesser Redpoll ringing project.

It was a bit of a sluggish start with the first couple of hours yielding just one Goldcrest and four Lesser Redpolls, things then took an interesting turn when a Chiffchaff, already bearing a ring, was extracted from the nets. On closer inspection this bird proved to be a Belgian ringed control and constitutes our Groups first ever Foreign ringed control of a Chiffchaff (CC0289 Mus. Sc. Nat 1000 Brussels)! This bird appears to be of the regular British race, Phylloscopus collybita and is the third winter season Chiffchaff we have trapped at Whixall in recent weeks (see previous posts). On a review of images and biometric measurements of last weeks bird, it is quite possible that all three were also of different races!

IMG_2642 copyBelgian ringed Chiffchaff (CC0289 Mus. Sc. Nat 1000 Brussels)

Though a common summer visitor to Britain, the Chiffchaff remains a scarce winter visitor and though there is little confirmed evidence of the origins of these wintering birds, most are considered to be migrants from Belgium, the Netherlands, the Ukraine and Scandinavia. The bird trapped today adds another piece to the jigsaw of our knowledge of the winter movements of this diminutive migrant!

The catch rate improved as the day progressed and we finished up with a total of thirty-nine birds which, (in addition to the aforementioned Chiffchaff), comprised of thirty-three Lesser Redpolls, two Goldcrests, one Blue Tit, one Wren and a stunning juvenile male Sparrowhawk.

IMG_2646 copyJuvenile male Sparrowhawk.

IMG_2650 copyJuvenile male Sparrowhawk.

This was, surprisingly, the first Sparrowhawk we have ever managed to ring at Whixall! A welcome bonus and a fitting end to a successful and interesting days ringing!


A Day of Surprises Down on the Moss!

It was a day of surprise at Whixall today!

Surprise 1: A lack of birds! A total of twenty-nine birds were trapped and ringed/processed, of which twelve were retraps/controls!

Surprise 2: Only eleven Lesser Redpolls were trapped. However, two of these were controls!

IMG_2567 copyLesser Redpoll, control D323324

Surprise 3: Another Chiffchaff was trapped and ringed, but this week a 1st calendar year example of the Scandinavian race, Phylloscopus collybita abietinus, (edited 29/11/14) Which gives a good opportunity to compare last weeks tristis and this weeks abietinus side by side.

IMG_2559 copy 1Phylloscopus collybita tristis.               Phylloscopus collybita abietinus.

The remainder of the days catch comprised 1 Blackbird, 1 Wren, 1 Robin, 2 Treecreeper, 3 Goldcrest, 5 Long-tailed tit, 1 Coal tit and 3 Blue Tit.

Surprise 4: We were entertained for a prolonged period of the day by a Weasel which gave excellent views as it was actively hunting along the main paths. We eventually established that two animals were involved. This in itself is not entirely surprising. However we were as surprised as the one Weasel itself when a Kestrel zipped in from nowhere, despatched and carried away the hapless creature with relative ease!!

I have never seen or heard of this behaviour before and where is the long lens when you need it? Oh!, all the great photographs I haven’t taken!!

From Russia With Love

This morning found Gerry, Paul, Bob and myself down on Whixall Moss for another mist-netting session targeting the Lesser Redpolls which pass through the site in good numbers at this time of year, however, the first net round yielded an unexpected surprise in the shape of a stunning Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis)!

IMG_2547 copySiberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis)

This bird had overall cold, grey-brown tones to the upperparts with diffuse greenish fringes to the primaries, secondaries and tail feathers. The crown was cold grey-brown. the bird had a prominent buff supercilium which remained strong behind the eye and buff ear coverts which emphasised the darker eye-stripe. The underparts were an almost silvery-white with a buff suffusion to the flanks and breast sides. Legs and bill were black. The bird obliged by calling in the hand, a single soft, mournful ‘heeep’, quite unlike the characteristic ‘weet’ of Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).

IMG_2551 copySiberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis)

Included here is a photograph of Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) for comparison purposes. Note in particular the overall warmer, yellowish plumage tones.

_MG_4145 copy copyCommon Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

The day was also successful for Lesser Redpoll with an additional forty-four captures, two of which were retraps/controls, whilst the remainder of captures comprised of 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Blackbird, 1 wren, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Bullfinch and 1 Reed Bunting.

The highlights of a morning walk onto the Moss with my evening class participants included a stunning male Hen Harrier, 3 Stonechats and Green Woodpecker. All in all this has been a pretty good day!!

Redpoll season again.

Today saw good numbers of redpoll again at Whixall Moss and a bit of variety with a couple of bullfinches and goldcrests, five reed buntings and a small number of tits. Willow Tits are getting fairly scarce now with a decreasing population across the UK (http://www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-of-month/willow-tit) so it was great to hear two calling this morning, of which we were lucky to catch one. The RSPB are interested in finding out more about the decline of this species and have asked for faecal samples of birds caught. Luckily this bird was very obliging and provided a sample in its bag whilst in line for processing, so Gerry was very excited to be able to collect the group’s first sample to send off for the study! The sample was stored in alcohol in the field and will be sent off along with the details about the bird and where it was captured.

The last couple of weeks have seen redpolls begin to move through at Whixall in good numbers again. Flocks of between 10 – 30 birds were moving through all day today. The majority of birds caught (57 in total today) were Lesser Redpoll, but three birds seemed much chunkier than the others, with slightly larger bill and wing measurements, suggesting they be part Mealy/Common Redpoll.

Sessions over the past couple of weeks at this site have had fairly good catches of Redpolls (see table below) with very few birds being recaptured suggesting the birds are moving through, rather than staying around at Whixall.


Several flocks of approximately 50 Fieldfare were seen this afternoon with a number of Redwing also passing through this morning. A male Hen Harrier was a nice sighting and other highlights were a Peregrine and three Stonechats.

Hello, Hola and Bonjour!

Today we held our first Sand Martin ringing session of the year at Wood Lane, near Ellesmere. The active quarry site hosts a thriving breeding colony which is the subject of a long term ringing project. Sand Martins winter in sub-Saharan Africa and the large majority of the British breeding population migrate through northern Africa and onwards through Spain and France crossing the Chanel to reach their , often traditional, breeding sites in early spring.


Sand Mart Mist Net

Mist-netting Sand Martins


The mornings catch of seventy-eight birds comprised of sixty-seven adults and eleven fledged juveniles, the juveniles being distinguishable from the adults by the paler fringing to the feathering of the upperparts compared to the uniform appearance of the adults.


Sand Martin Juv

Juvenile Sand Martin                          Adult Sand Martin


Included in todays catch were ten retraps of birds ringed in previous breeding seasons at Wood Lane and two foreign controls, one a French ringed bird (7280813) and a Spanish ringed bird (Z96450). It will be interesting to receive the original ringing details of these two individuals!


Sand Martin Span Con copy

Spanish Ringed Sand Martin (Z96450)

…..and About Time Too!

For the past few winters, dark, moonless evenings have found us out lamping for Woodcock on several sites in the North of Shropshire. Extremely rare as a breeding bird in Shropshire these days, however reasonable numbers winter in areas where suitable woodland habitat exists. Most of these birds are long distance migrants which breed in Russia and Scandinavia. The birds tend to spend the daylight hours roosting in woodland before moving out onto the damp, semi-improved grazing pastures to feed as darkness falls.



The process involves dazzling the birds with a strong torch beam and carefully approaching to drop an hand net over them, after which, they are ringed, processed and released.


Woodcock During Ringing

Up until now all of our recoveries of ringed birds have involved retraps on our own ringing sites or of birds shot in adjacent woodlands during organized game shoots. It was therefore particularly exciting to receive notification of the first foreign recovery of one of our ringed birds this week!

Woodcock (EY11548) was originally ringed, as an adult, (age code 4), on one of our private sites in North Shropshire 31/12/2013. This bird was recovered shot at Proskurino, Kalyazinskiy district, Russia, either on, or on it’s way to it’s breeding grounds 102 days later, 12/04/2014, some 2622km from the original ringing site in a direction of 80deg East. This seems an unfortunate end to the story of Woodcock (EY11548), however a large amount of information has been, and continues to be learnt about this secretive species from recoveries of shot birds and we are grateful that the hunters take the time and effort to report the details of ringed birds that they shoot.


The Journey of Woodcock (EY11548)

More information about this species can be found by doing a Google search on the ‘Woodcock Network’.

…..Mopping Up the Remainder!

An evening visit to Hawkstone today to try to catch the remaining available adult Pied Flycatcher which failed to play (squash!) ball on my previous visit. This evening it was trapped, ringed, processed and released within minutes of my arrival! A retrap male, X911169, a bird with a bit of history, originally ringed as a breeding adult (age code 6) 05/06/2010, retrapped at the same nest-box, 27/05/2011, and again retrapped at the same nest-box (having skipped a year) 12/06/2013. This evenings retrapping was at a different nest-box nearby! This makes this individual at least six years old and he will have spent each of the intervening winters in West Africa, quite amazing for a small bird weighing around 12g!

 Whilst there I ringed the remainder of this years nestlings, twenty-two in total from three broods of six, seven and nine respectively.

 That brings the totals of Pied Flycatchers processed at Hawkstone this year to seven adults (including two retraps) and twenty-nine pulli.

 Just the Common Redstarts to look forward to now! #satisfied!!

The ‘Catchers Get Caught!

Spent a couple of hours at Hawkstone Park today with the aim of catching the adult Pied Flycatchers that are nesting in our nest-boxes. This species are wonderful to work with, being very tolerant, they can be safely trapped at the nest-box without fear of desertion. So, armed with half a squash ball and a long length of fishing line, I managed to trap, ring and process five out of the six available adults! Four of these (three females and one male) were new birds, whilst the remaining bird, an adult male (age code 6) was a retrap, L144632, which was originally ringed as a breeding adult (age code 4) at Hawkstone 27/05/2011 and was also retrapped 02/06/2012 prior to it’s capture today.


Male Pied Flycatcher L144632


Female Pied Flycatcher

One brood of seven Pied Flycatcher chicks were of a ringable age, the remaining three broods, however, are still too young and will require another visit.


Pied Flycatcher Pullus

Both of our Common Redstart nest are still on eggs which have yet to hatch.


Common Redstart Nest.

Field observations confirmed the remaining untrapped male Pied Flycatcher to be a ringed bird, so another visit will be made to attempt to trap it……..watch this space!

It’s Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other!

Another day spent nest-boxing today, but this time we were checking our Kestrel boxes, of which we have fifteen located at suitable sites in the North of Shropshire. Through our colour ringing project on this species we aim to monitor breeding success, dispersal and recruitment into the breeding population.

 Of the fifteen boxes, unfortunately, only one was occupied, this was however unsurprising given last springs late and prolonged covering of snow, which resulted in many records of adult Kestrels being unable to find prey and subsequently starving to death. It was therefore pleasing to discover that our occupied box contained six healthy pulli which were ringed processed and returned safely to the nest-box.Image

 Six Healthy Kestrel Pulli.


 Processed and Safely Returned!

 At another site where the nest-box had been blown out of the tree (along with half of the tree!) during the February gales, the resident pair had failed to use a new alternative box in a nearby tree, however the female was discovered incubating a clutch of five eggs in an hollow left in the severely damaged, original nest tree! This would seem to be quite a late nest and may possibly be a replacement clutch following an earlier failed attempt.Image

 Clutch of Kestrel Eggs

 It has been well documented that, (in addition to the Kestrel), Barn Owls also suffered terribly during the late, prolonged snow cover of March 2013, with the breeding population decimated by the deaths, due to starvation, of many adults, whilst the majority of the remainder, failed to achieve breeding condition and either attempted to breed late or entirely skipped a breeding season. The discovery of six well fed chicks in a nest-box at a traditional breeding site today was, therefore, a very welcome surprise!Image

 Barn Owl Chicks

 All of the above, no doubt, also indicates a recovery in the local Vole population. Maybe it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ after all!! 

Not so much the ‘early birds’!

An early Sunday morning ringing session in a woodland near to Market Drayton resulted in Colin and Gerry being more awake first thing in the morning than the birds they were trying to catch.  The most active birds initially appeared to be the pair of blue tits feeding their young that had taken up residence in the tree immediately behind Gerry’s head.

As the morning progressed the birds started to make an appearance and a total of 29 birds were eventually caught and processed, of which 10 were re-traps.

Of particular interest were the three re-traps of Marsh Tits which have previously been ringed as part of the colour ringing project in the area.  It was also notable that one of the marsh tits and a blue tit had commenced their moult – which can be seen in the wing profile of the first Marsh Tit to be caught.

DSC_0096 (1024x680)DSC_0092 (680x1024)

DSC_0094 (1024x680)

Also of note during the morning ringing session were the first birds to be recorded as first year birds, which had progressed into post juvenile plumage – a Kingfisher and a Dunnock.

DSC_0097 (1024x680) DSC_0098 (1024x680)







The other birds caught throughout the morning were 2 Blackcaps; 3 Chiffchaff; 5 Bullfinch; 1 Nuthatch; 3 Great Tit; 5 Blue Tit; 2 Coal Tit; 2 Wren; and 1 Robin.

A slow start, but an interesting morning’s catch.

Hanging On In There!

A trawl around the nest-boxes at Hawkstone Park today proved interesting. Occupancy appeared higher than would normally be expected, with Blue Tit and Great Tit  predictably being the most abundant tenants! Interesting amongst these was a mixed brood containing two Great Tit chicks and six Blue Tit chicks being tended by Blue Tit parents.

The scheme at Hawkstone was initiated some twenty-two years ago with the intention of increasing the numbers and monitoring the productivity and survival rates of the local Pied Flycatcher population. Pied Flycatcher is a BTO amber listed species due to a recent decline in the breeding population and being on the Eastern edge of the breeding range, this decline has been very evident at Hawkstone. During the late 1990’s the population here peaked at twenty-six pairs, however the dramatic decline saw this population reduce to an all time low of just one pair in the early part of the 2000’s. The species does however maintain a precarious foothold, with three or four pairs present most summers in recent years. It was therefore pleasing to discover four active nests today. All were at the egg or small chick stage. One nest contained six eggs, another contained seven young at around two days old. The remaining two nests contained  a mixture of eggs and chicks, one had two chicks and five eggs whilst the other held , a quite incredible four chicks and six eggs!14 copy

Pied Flycatcher

Two nest-boxes were found to contain Common Redstart nests, both at the egg stage. Though Common Redstart are present at this site in small numbers each year, they appear to favour natural nest sites and todays discovery represent only the fourth and fifth nest-box occupancy by this species since the scheme began. The previous records involved Successful nests in the same nest-box in two consecutive years in the early days of the scheme and a nest which failed at the egg stage last year. Despite this species reportedly being in decline nationally, observations seem to suggest a general increase locally.11 copy

Common Redstart

A Fist Full of Throstles!

An interesting mornings ringing at Hawkstone Park saw a total of thirty-seven birds find their way into the mist-nets of which seven were retraps/controls, with a total of tweve species represented.

 The site itself is a relatively scarce habitat in Shropshire comprising of mature, mainly broadleaved woodland, and inland rock with several impressive cliff faces. The site is also home to a championship golf course and the Hawkstone Park Follies,which is one of the counties premiere visitor attractions. We have been ringing on the site for over twenty years.

 Blackbird was the most numerous species ringed  with nine birds which included two retraps, this was closely followed, surprisingly, by Song Thrush, six of which were trapped, ringed and released. Five of the latter, comprising two adult males and three juveniles were captured during the same net round!Image

 Song Thrush.

Summer migrants were well represented with 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Chiffchaff, 3 Blackcap and our first two Garden Warblers of the year.Image

 Garden Warbler.

 The remainder of the catch comprised of 2 Bullfinch, 4 Dunnock, 1 Nuthatch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit and 4 Wren.

 At least two each of Redstart and Pied Flycatcher were singing more or less constantly throughout the morning, which bodes well for next weekends trawl around the nest-boxes!