Monday, 28 April 2014

Introduction to bird ringing course

Yesterday I attended a one-day BTO course held (very conveniently for me!) at RSPB Sandwell Valley, 'Introduction to bird ringing'. The course did what it said on the tin - it was a great introduction to bird ringing - what, why, how, when and who! There were just 6 of us so we had plenty of opportunity to all have a go at handling the birds, putting rings on them and recording the data. Here are some photos from the day!

Holding a Song Thrush in ringer's grip - the easiest and most comfortable hold for both the bird and the person. I got to hold a Song Thrush and also to put a ring on its leg (while someone else held it!) :o)
Ageing a male Bullfinch by looking at the moult limit on the coverts, this seemed to be easier for some species than others! The paler coloured feathers to the left are juvenile feathers which have partially been replaced by adult feathers (darker coloured to the right) so we can tell this Bullfinch hatched last year.

A nice male Great Tit!
A lovely Wren! Birds can also be held by their thighs.
Hehe this is a great photo of a male Blackcap which I got to hold and release, I think the Blackcaps were my favourite.
The nets which we checked every 10-15 minutes for birds. Extracting birds from the nets is the hardest part and as such was only done by the experienced ringers present!
We caught so many Bullfinches! Sandwell Valley is a great spot for them. They are amongst the most flighty and easily stressed birds of all so they have to be ringed and released as quickly as possible to minimise stress.
The data sheet upon which information about the birds caught is recorded. There are codes for some categories e.g. species, age, body fat, muscle. Weight and wing length are also measured.
Rings are colour-coded by size. Depending on the species (and sometimes the sex within species if there is marked sexual dimorphism) different ring sizes are used.
Putting a ring on a male Chaffinch's leg. Maybe some of the skills learnt on my first degree (Jewellery & Silversmithing) will come in handy....
Measuring the male Chaffinch's wing.

Another way to hold some larger birds, the bunch of flowers grip - around the feet and over the tail and wings.
A Chiffchaff's wing showing how you can conclusively tell it apart from a Willow Warbler (I'm a little hazy on the actual details though!)
 I also had time to spot a couple more new plants to try and identify!

No flowers yet on this one so I will probably have to go back and double check when it is in flower. But for now I think it may be Smooth Tare (Vicia tetrasperma). Maybe it could be Slender Tare (Vicia parviflora) but it seems that that is much less widespread so less likely.
Actually I spotted this on Friday morning when we did the breeding bird survey, but didn't get a chance to photograph it. I think it is Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum).
At the end of the day we spotted these two watching us from the horses' paddock by the railway bridge. What a great end to a super day :o)


Monday, 21 April 2014

Rowley Hills ramble

On Saturday I went for a wander in the Rowley Hills, part of which is owned by the Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust. I'd originally planned to look for butterflies there (mainly the elusive Green Hairstreaks) but the weather forecast had deteriorated somewhat since I originally planned my visit. However I thought I'd head out anyway to see what else I might spot and to explore to area a bit more extensively since my last visit!

First of all I inspected some of the outcrops of Rowley Rag (dolerite) from the former quarrying works. In many places it has weathered in a really interesting way, which I learnt from the handy leaflet in the link above is called spheroidal weathering. This is due to the tendency of the rocks to have formed spheroid shapes when they originally cooled and crystallised from magma, which have subsequently peeled away in layers as the rocks were weathered:

Spheroidal weathering of Rowley Rag.

Spheroidal weathering of Rowley Rag.
Spheroidal weathering of Rowley Rag.
Here are a few plants I spotted during my visit:

This was growing extensively on some of the exposed rock faces, it looks like Reflexed Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre).
There was a lot of this around, just starting to come into flower. I think it is Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium).
I can't see lovely Cuckoo Flowers (Cardamine pratensis) without taking a photo of them, especially such a hefty bunch as this.
The Cuckoo Flower bunch en situ!
On my walk around I heard and saw a good range of birds, including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and a tentatively singing Whitethroat. I saw a few raptors too - Buzzard, Kestrel, and the highlight, a pair of noisy Peregrines which flew right over me!

I'm looking forward to heading back to the Rowley Hills again soon when the chances of butterfly and wildflower action are better! :o)

The Rowley Hills.
The Rowley Hills.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Malvern magic!

It's the Easter holidays, wahey! For me that means a full 6 days off work as Birmingham University closes til the Thursday after Easter, good times. It's a good chance to get loads of studying done but also when the weather is good (which seems to have finished now) to get out and about, so on Friday Chris and I headed to one of our favourite destinations, the Malvern Hills. After my previous visit to the southern end of the hills, we decided to return there to explore a bit more of the area. It was a brilliant day! As I've previously mentioned, one of the great things about the Malverns is the range of habitats you can see in a very compact area. Here are some of the different landscapes we experienced on our walk!

Looking north up the Malvern range, the tallest one in the distance is the Worcestershire Beacon.
The terraced hillsides of the Herefordshire Beacon/British Camp.

Blue water at Gullet Quarry.
Awesome geology at Gullet Quarry! Unfortunately it's too dangerous to get close up to the rocks for a proper look :o(
View from Castlemorton Common.
Castlemorton Common (with a Buzzard).
Castlemorton Common. I heard a distant Grasshopper Warbler in this area but did not see it!
The obligatory cute lambs photo.
Walking back up towards the British Camp Reservoir.
Highlights of the day included seeing my first Redstarts and Whitethroats of the year, a super-cool Peregrine and friendly Raven both perching and flying around Gullet Quarry, and a rustling among dead leaves on a bank to one side of the path which revealed itself to be a Bank Vole. We also saw 6 butterfly species (Comma, Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood).

Raven (and Jackdaw!) at Gullet Quarry.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) butterfly on Nettles (Urtica dioica).
I was as usual on the lookout for plants to attempt to ID as well:

I'm not too sure, but I think this might be Hairy Sedge (Carex hirta). Edit: no it's Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris)! Laughing and learning....(mainly learning).
Here is some very small and cute Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys)!
Hmmm this is most probably Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) but I should've had a closer look at it to check it isn't Early Dog-violet (V. reichenbachiana).
Erm. At first I thought this was Bugle (Ajuga reptans) but the more I look at it the more I think it might be Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). If anyone is more certain do let me know!
Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea).
We finished off our day by stuffing our faces with delicious food in The Nag's Head in Great Malvern, before heading home to watch The Muppets film. What a superb day!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sandwell Valley - April 2014

Yesterday was my monthly volunteering jaunt at RSPB Sandwell Valley; I was looking forward to it as many new Spring friends had arrived since I was last there! Indeed on my walk down to the hide I heard and saw many fine things, including singing Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap, and Peacock, Comma and Orange Tip butterflies.

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis Io) in the wildlife garden area.
The marsh and Forge Mill Lake looking fine!
Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) on Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Those Orange Tips were too quick to photograph though!
Down at the hide, the Oystercatchers appeared to be incubating eggs - they had cleverly chosen as their nest site a small area that had been fenced off to try and protect nesting waders from the marauding tramplings of Canada Geese. This doesn't appear to have been entirely successful as there was also a Canada Goose sitting withing the fenced area! However the Oystercatchers weren't fazed by the geese, and maybe it will prove a wise choice as the geese could assist with chasing off predators. During the day we saw the male and female swap over a few times, taking turns to sit on the eggs. Something they definitely were fazed by were the several juvenile Grey Herons which flew overhead a few times - this was guaranteed to set off the Oystercatchers a'squawking.

Nesting Oystercatcher, with an attendant Canada Goose. My digiscoping efforts I think are slowly improving :o)
I also saw my first Swallows, Sand and House Martins of the year. During the day we saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes swim right past the front of the hide a couple of times, possibly searching for nest sites - at one point they briefly investigated an old Coot's nest very close to the hide, but seemed to decide against it - probably for the best as it is rather exposed and shoddily constucted! Another Great Crested Grebe pair were seen further down the lake, possibly building a nest beneath some overhanging trees.

Don't nest there, it's shoddy.
Nearly all the winter ducks have gone now, there were a small handful of Goosanders about and someone reported that they had seen a pair of Shoveler on the marsh. The confused Pochard that thinks it's a Tufted Duck was still there though - he normally stays all year round with his tufted friends.

I'm a Tufted Duck! I'm a Tufted Duck! I'm a Tufted Duck!
I had fun practicing my digiscoping on the Lapwings:

This was probably the best one.....only a tiny bit of vignetting...
And also the Little Ringed Plovers! Despite numerous attempts this was about the best I managed, it's no coincidence that it's of one of these normally busy plovers sitting still for once:

Digiscoped Little Ringed Plover....shame it's not quite in focus!
However I am quite pleased with some of the day's drawings, as well as the 3 Little Ringed Plovers there was also a Common Sandpiper bumbling around.

Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper sketches. The Little Ringed Plover on the left hand page is my favourite. I was trying, but not quite succeeding, to nail the head patterns in the two bottom right sketches.
On the path down to the hide, I tried to look out for interesting new plants to attempt to ID. It's more difficult when not much is in flower, although not new to me I saw some lovely Cuckoo Flowers:

Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis).
And these leaves which were a bit more mysterious:

I'm going to hazard a guess at..... Creeping Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans). Might have to wait until it flowers though for confirmation!

I also spotted a white butterfly and I can't decide whether it was Small White or a female Orange Tip, my butterfly ID skills are still in their infancy! I'm inclined to think Orange Tip due to the time of year (a bit early for Whites?), unfortunately this is not a good photo, but if anyone can tell from this picture I would welcome that! :o)

Male Small White (Pieris rapae) or female Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)?

Also in other news, I finally took my thumb to the GP this morn, who diagnosed De Quervain's tenosynovitis, likely to be brought about by my intensive note-taking with poor writing technique from my studies. The best course of action is definitely resting the area completely so I am going to stop my paintings again for a while as I really want this to recover now (if it doesn't, the next step is steroid injections and I don't like the sound of that!) So alas, there will be no paintings for a while and I will be using the time instead to ice and stretch my thumb!