Monday 1 December 2014

November 2014

With the mild weather continuing and with no sign of significant flocks to tempt us, attention turned to stocking feeders to supplement the main sites with the resultant increase in Blue and Great Tits.

3M Firecrest (Carl Hunter Roach)
445 new birds were ringed (194 Runnymede RG; 251 Maple Cross RG) but they did represent 38 species.

52 Starlings were ringed in two gardens and 32 Goldfinch, mostly from Milton Keynes. 22 Goldcrest were widespread but a Firecrest at Woolley Firs was on its own.

Thrushes were well represented with a rare capture of 2 Mistle Thrush (Chobham and Woolley Firs), 5 Fieldfare (Willows), 8 Redwing (Hilfield), 14 Blackbird and a Song Thrush. A Dartford Warbler, 7 Blackcap and 9 Chiffchaff were ringed and there was a returning Chiffchaff at Bedfont.

6 Lesser Redpoll were all from Chobham; there were 7 more Yellowhammer from Willows, a total of 8 Reed Buntings (7 at Chobham) and a Carrion Crow from Eastcote - an unusual one for the groups' species list.

Friday 28 November 2014

October 2014

With several trainers taking a holiday this month, sessions were down at some sites but still produced a healthy 557 birds (276 Runnymede RG; 281 Maple Cross RG) of 33 species.

Meadow Pipits headed the totals with 119 and peaks of 81 at Chobham and 25 at Hilfield. Goldfinch came in second at 60 with 41 from Milton Keynes gardens whilst Goldcrest and Blue Tit tied for bronze at 54.

There was a good catch of 16 Reed Buntings at Chobham and 7 Yellowhammer at The Willows. House Sparrows are rarely caught these days and 14 at The Willows (with 5 Trees) were notable.

Maple Cross produced an interesting result for a garden-ringed Starling (Eastcote, December 2013) recovered on the Baltic coast in Lithuania this September, 1,505km away.

Starling ring recovery. Eastcote, London to SiluteLithuania

Wednesday 12 November 2014

The benefits offered by bird ringing in the 21st century

In this editorial, I shall first mention the various methods of marking and tracking birds, and then go on to explain why I think that bird ringing is still essential to the development of both bird science and bird conservation. Ian Newton

Full article:

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Ageing and sexing Reed Bunting. Emberiza schoeniclus

Ageing and sexing Reed Bunting can be difficult when handling single birds. At a recent session on Chobham Common, where we caught 15 individuals, we had the opportunity to compare both males and females as well as different ages of birds too. Below is what we observed:

All photographs were taken on 5th October 2014 and are of four individuals (plus a fifth which better illustrated the alulae and primary coverts of a 1st autumn female).

Crown feathers

Sexing. The pattern of black and buff on crown feathers is straightforward at this time of year - the black base to the crown feathers in males is broad with 90%+ of the buff restricted to the feather tips. In females the black parts of the vanes form arrow-head shapes with the buff extending down from the feather tip either side of the black.

Alulae and primary coverts

Ageing. The two males follow the literature: the adult has neatly rounded primary coverts whereas the young, while still rounded, are more loosely defined; both along their edges and around the tips. The females are harder to differentiate though the 1st Autumn bird does have greater wear than both adults.

Note that both adults exhibit dark outer alulae whereas both juveniles are paler. This isn't something I've read and we'll check future buntings as a follow-up. If anyone has a reference for this criteria do get in touch and I'll update this post.

Primary feather wear

Ageing. One has to look carefully to judge the amount of primary wear in Reed Bunting and even in October, a cursory look is often not enough. Compare the lower two birds with those above: the young male exhibits the most wear but the young female also has greater wear than both adults. Using the primaries for ageing gets progressively more difficult as the season progresses.

Tail shape and wear

Ageing. Reed Bunting have broad outer tail feather but it's the shape that can help age a bird. Adult tail feathers are rounded at the tip and, in October, generally show little wear. Juveniles are more pointed and a close inspection will show a greater degree of wear.

Further reading

  1. An excellent set of photographs for southern populations of Reed Bunting is definitely worth further study:
  2. The use of primary abrasion for ageing reed buntings emberiza schoeniclus, J del La Punte & J Seoane, April 2011
  3. Birds ringe at Billinge:
  4. Sexing first year reed buntings using biometrics, C Walton & P Walton, April 2011

Wednesday 1 October 2014

September 2014

Good weather and extra activity at Wraysbury and Tythebarns gave a welcome total of 1,294 new birds (924 Runnymede RG; 370 Maple Cross RG).

Blackcaps were the most numerous species totalling 370 (including 198 Wraysbury, 108 Tythebarns and 24 at both Hilfield and Bedfont) followed by Chiffchaff at 198 (including 76 Tythebarns, 52 Wraysbury, 36 Chobham and 19 Broadwater).

Meadow Pipits also featured highly at 105 (57 Hilfield, 31 Chobham and 20 Bedfont) and Goldfinch made a healthy 80 (mostly at Wraysbury).

A total of 45 species were ringed (37 Runnymede RG: 29 Maple Cross RG) with the premier being a Wryneck at Wraysbury. Tree Pipit appeared at Chobham, Grey Wagtail at Windsor and Redstart at Wraysbury, with Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer at Willows.
Adult Wryneck at Wraysbury (C Hunter Roach)

Recent Recoveries

A Pied Wagtail we ringed at Bricket Wood in December 2010 was caught again, this May, 300 miles north in Peebles in the Scottish Borders.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

August 2014

Another month of high totals giving 1,603 new birds (1,013 Runnymede RG; 590 Maple Cross RG). The Maple Cross total was their highest ever for August whilst RRG was only surpassed in 2010 and 2004.

Hobby (C & D Lambsdell)
Warblers took the top three places with 365 Blackcaps, 169 Whitethroats and 145 Reed Warblers. Garden Warblers did well at 91 as did Sedge Warblers with 40. 

Most amazing though, were 72 Willow Warblers – 53 of them at Broadwater; it is over four years since we had more than 50 a month.

There was a marvellous range of species, 42 in all, with Maple Cross producing the lion’s share – a Hobby and 2 Sparrowhawks at Broadwater, Redstarts at Hilfield and Milton Keynes; 3 Spotted Flycatchers at Hilfield and 9 Tree Sparrows at Willows, whilst Wraysbury had 4 Linnets and an unseasonal Redpoll.

Recoveries began to trickle through again including a Meadow Pipit in Bordeaux, France and a Common Redpoll just about as far north on the British mainland as it could get at Shebster, by Thurso.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

July 2014

Many sites welcomed the number of birds that were around this month and the July total of 1,431 (768 Runnymede RG; 663 Maple Cross RG) bears this out.

Excluding pulli, which vary greatly from year to year, 1,384 birds were ringed, comparing well with 1,486 in 2010 but short of the 1,743 in 2011, our best recent years (an example of regression toward the mean).

Grasshopper Warbler (J Hewitt)
49 species appear on July's list (40 Runnymede RG; 36 Maple Cross RG) with the first Yellow Wagtail since 2009 (Stanwellmoor) and a Grasshopper Warbler at Wraysbury. Grey Wagtail featured at Broadwater and a Stonechat at Chobham where there were also 3 Nightjars and another at Black Park.

With full access to reed beds now, Reed Warblers at 179 challenged Blue Tit (210) for top species with Blackcap 141 and Chiffchaff 105 also over the ton. Sedge Warblers have occurred in lower numbers in recent years and 26 was a nice total for this species, especially as this included several adults.

Thursday 24 July 2014

June 2014

Robin (D Harris)
June totals often vary widely dependant on the number of pulli available but this month’s total of 1019 (449 Runnymede RG; 570 Maple Cross RG) has the largest number of full-grown birds (986) since 2006.

46 species were ringed (38 Runnymede; 33 Maple Cross) with 2 House Martins at Windsor, a Mistle Thrush at Wraysbury and a Grey Wagtail at Hilfield being the highlights.

House Martin
House Martin (C Hunter Roach)
It is only a couple of years since we tried for 10 Cetti’s Warblers in a year; here we have 8 in a month! There was our first Nightjar of the year, 3 Kingfisher, 19 House Sparrow, 9 Tree Sparrow and a Linnet for good measure.

Blue Tit was top species at 135 followed by Blackcap at 107 but it was the number of Robins that caused comment – 78 compared to a 5-year June mean of 39.

Pulli numbers were low this month due to the ‘late running’ of the Bedfont gulls and terns and predation of Swallow nests at Tythebarns.

A female Reed Warbler caught at Windsor was ringed last August just north of Lisbon, Portugual - 1,400km away.

Thursday 26 June 2014

May 2014

As is to be expected, totals soared this month with over 959 birds ringed (438 Runnymede RG; 521 Maple Cross RG), the highest May total since 2006. Pulli were a major component at 462 (186; 276) mostly Blue Tit (351) and Great Tit (107) but also 3 House Sparrows and a Lapwing chick. 

Elsewhere, CES sessions started with early indications of a good season for juveniles and the usual mixed fortunes for resident and migrant species. High water levels persisted at Bedfont and Stanwellmoor with only 3 new Reed Warbler against 17 in 2013 and returning birds only 2 against 25 in 2013.

In gardens, the arrival of juvenile Starlings and their parents raised them to third place behind Blue and Great Tits with 97 ringed whilst Blackcap and Robin followed with 54 and 52 respectively.

Monday 26 May 2014

April 2014

Despite generally good weather this month the poor days did seem to fall on planned sessions so 235 new birds (127 Runnymede RG; 108 Maple Cross RG) was a reasonable total. We probably missed out on some migrants later in the month but still achieved 30 species with highlights of a Tree Pipit and a Firecrest at Wraysbury, Stock Dove at Tythebarns and Sparrowhawk at Hilfield.

Only Reed Warbler was missing from our usual warbler lineup with Blackcap making top numbers of 49. Five Robins at Tythebarns opened the pulli season.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

March 2014

With many sites saturated and very muddy it took some opportunistic ringing to reach 279 new birds (154 Runnymede RG; 125 Maple Cross RG) of 31 species. The species quality was high with  pride of place going to 2 Woodlarks at Chobham. Whilst not new to the Group species  list – pulli were ringed in 1986 and 1988 – these are the first full-grown birds to appear. 

Woodpecker box
Complementing these, a Skylark was ringed at Woolley Firs and 14 Meadow Pipits (3 Stanwellmoor; 11 Wooley Firs). A Snipe was testimony to the dampness at Stanwellmoor and a Yellowhammer at Woolley Firs took the winters total there to 12. Other nice species handled were Redwing at Hilfield and Woolley Firs with 6 Dartford Warbler and a Common Redpoll at Chobham. 

Southerly winds early in the month brought in some warblers with 9 Blackcap and the top total for the month – 34 Chiffchaff (15 Bedfont and 10 Hilfield).

A Woolley Firs nest boxes were repaired and additional boxes added including a Great Spotted Woodpecked box.

Saturday 1 March 2014

February 2014

A difficult month with only a few hardy souls venturing away from gardens and out into the mud.

Around 266 birds of 28 species were ringed (135 RRG; 131 MX) which is actually about an average February total. Highlights were a Norwegian Common Redpoll trapped with another Common and Lesser Redpoll at Black Park, 2 Blackcap at the Meads and 37 Siskin at Iver Heath.

Saturday 1 February 2014

January 2014

Against the odds some sessions were possible in January and at least 395 birds were ringed (223 Runnymede RG; 172 Maple Cross RG) with a total of 32 species.
(Eleanor Page)

These included several nice ones such as Water Rail and Moorhen at Hilfield, Mistle Thrush at Home Court Farm and Firecrest at Bedfont, with Dartford Warbler at Chobham and Blackcap at Heston garden.

27 Pied Wagtail and 27 Fieldfare showed success with wary species and Redwing starred again with 51, second highest to Blue Tit at 67. Five Lesser Redpoll recoveries give an insight to the transient nature of the late October birds at Chobham.

Monday 20 January 2014


Male Goldfinch
A new year and despite the unsettled weather the group is managing to get out ringing.

We also continue to have people joining up to study birds and learn how to ring. There's lots to learn in the BTO training process; here's a very small example from a session last Sunday.

The Goldfinch opposite - yellow on wing & the head pattern are key to identification - can be sexed as a male. How? Male Goldfinches can be distinguished by a larger red mask that extends just behind the eye. In females, the red area is smaller.