31 May 2011

Nest Recording Courses 2011

Ever keen to train new volunteers, the Demography Unit has been running two-day Nest Record Scheme field courses throughout May: one at BTO headquarters, Thetford, Norfolk, on the weekend of 13th-15th, a second in Cheshire on the 20th-22nd, a third at Hindhead, Surrey, this last weekend and a fourth still to come this weekend at Cupar, Fife.

The focus of NRS training courses has always been how to find and monitor nests of open-nesting passerines like warblers and finches. This is because the BTO needs more nest records for species such as Chiffchaff and Linnet but few new participants have the nest finding skills our forebears learnt as children.

At the Nunnery, Thetford, there was a heavy emphasis on warblers, with a day spent in the scrub habitat on The Nunnery reserve and a day in the clear fells of Thetford Forest. The latter proved particularly productive, with 10 warbler nests located in total, including Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff, most on eggs or small chicks.

Course tutor Richard Castell shows a participant the location of a Whitethroat's 'cock' nest

Over at Chapel House Farm, Cheshire, after talks on the Friday night, participants spent Saturday morning on the farm's meadows, tapping along reedy ditches in search of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. Several nests were found but the very windy conditions made searching difficult. On Sunday morning, tutor Richard Castell took the group to a woodland site and a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest was located. Then, back on the farm, watching birds' movements along hedgerows led people to nests of Chaffinch, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff.

The courses are as much about getting to know other BTO volunteers as they are about training; they are kept small--no more than ten people at each--and the course tutors are usually volunteer NRS participants themselves. Each day in the field is rounded off with a bar snack in the pub and by the end of the weekend people are invariably exchanging contact details are making plans visit one anothers' patches.

Thes courses wouldn't be possible without the generosity of Chapel House Farm and Elmwood College for letting us use their premises, and of course the volunteer tutors--Richard Castell, Tony Davis and David Oliver. The final course of 2011 is at Cupar this weekend: let's hope for another good one!

Course tutor Richard Castell explains the design of a Treecreeper nest box

23 May 2011

They're fledging... soon!

At this time of year, lots of Blue and Great Tits broods are starting to fledged, having been fed on caterpillars and other insects.

The Blue Tits that we're following on the BTO website and previously reported are very close indeed to fledging now, as are many all over the country. Will you be the first to see them fledged?

Here in Thetford, Norfolk we have had the odd brood dying from unknown causes, either adult predation or abandonment and out of the successful ones there have been a few broods with a definite 'runt of the litter'. Could it be that the caterpillar emergence was even earlier than expected this year due to possibly the warmest spring in a very long time, effecting food availability? Only time and more data will tell.

18 May 2011

Lesser Whitethroat update

We have just heard back from the Croatian Ringing Scheme and they have kindly sent us the ringing details of the Lesser Whitethroat that was killed by a cat in Worcestershire previously posted.

This juvenile bird was ringed at Vransko Lake in Dalmatia (below) 43'53N 15'33E on 20/09/2010. The Croatian Ringing Scheme host a ringing camp every year from August to early November and catches are usually between 25,000 to 30,000 birds per year. This is an important stopover site for passerines and waterbirds and netting largely occurs in the reeds, where the Lesser Whitethroat is not common. With only 51 Lesser Whitethroats ringed between 2001 and 2009, this recovery is even more remarkable.

Thanks to Jelena Kralj of the Croatian Ringing Scheme for this information and the picture.

16 May 2011

A tale of two Lesser Whitethroats

Getting foreign reports of Lesser Whitethoat is always a great occasion as this highlights the fact that this species makes a dramatically different migration to other warblers. Instead of migrating south, the Lesser Whitethroat migrate South East towards northern Italy and winter in areas like Egypt, Chad and Ethiopia.

Our first recovery was a Lesser Whitethroat (below and Red pins) that was killed by a cat called Fiver in Lower Broadheath, Worcester. Amazingly this bird was wearing a Croatian ring! We have only ever had one British ringed Lesser Whitethroat found dead in Croatia but this is the first time one of their ringed birds has been found in our country. This is very impressive considering the numbers of birds ringed in each country.

The second recovery (blue pins) was a Lesser Whitethroat that was ringed by West Wiltshire Ringing Group as a juvenile on 3rd July 2010 near Tilshead, Wilts. This bird was then found at Nila, Maban County in Sudan in a bucket! This is the first ever recovery from Sudan although this country has been thought to be part of the wintering ground.

View 2 Lesser Whitethroats in a larger map

Thanks to Lyn Fitz-Hugh for the photo.

06 May 2011

They're hatching!

The BTO website is currently live streaming a Blue Tits nest thanks to Gardenature. The eggs have been hatching for most of today, so have a look and see what progress they have made. The picture is live and has the added bonus of switching to a feeding station which can be full with birds.

Go to the BTO website or click here. This live streaming will be available until the chicks fledge.

05 May 2011

Nunnery Nest News - update

After our previous post about the Nunnery ringing group nest recording, Dave Leech realised that we were perilously close to recording our 1000th nest since the group began monitoring in 2006!

This milestone has now been reached with a Blackcap nest (below) found by Rachael Portnall, about a metre off the ground on an ivy-covered wall in The Nunnery garden.

Blackcap and Chiffchaff are the first of our migrants to lay eggs as they winter in the Mediterranean Basin and therefore have a shorter return journey than most. The first brood of Chiffchaff at The Nunnery hatched on Monday and will be ready to ring at the weekend.

We don't have that many nest boxes on the reserve so a large proportion of those recorded by the group are open nesting species, such as thrushes, wablers, finches and buntings - these records are particualrly valuable as the total submitted to the Nest Record Scheme have been declining in recent decade. Other nests that have been recently found on the reserve include Skylark with a clutch of four (above), the first ever eggs of this species recorded here, plus several incubating Whitethroat and more Linnet on eggs.

Some recent news from the BTOs Tawny Owl nest box which we previously reported: the ringed chicks are now 'branching', this is a term used for chicks that leave the nest and wander around the branches before they can fly.

Thanks to Dave Leech for the photo.