Ringing in the Reedbeds

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An exquisite male Bearded Tit

On Sunday we started ringing in the reedbeds at  Farlington Marshes nature reserve. The aim is to concentrate on the bearded tits to try and get an idea as to how the population is faring. It turned out to be a reasonable start and we caught a good number of birds. The females all had brood patches which signifies breeding so things are looking good.

Bearded tits, actually called bearded parrotbills now (formally bearded reedlings) are one of Farlington’s iconic species. They draw in a lot of people as the site has a very good population, especially for its size. The only issue is that they are very difficult to see. Normally all you get is a fleeting view of them as they bounce over the top of the reed before quickly dropping down. This makes monitoring very difficult and really the only way that we have a chance of getting a population estimate is through ringing. This also helps us look at longevity of individuals and location within the reed bed itself. All very useful stuff which can help influence how we manage the site.

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A very handsome male Reed Bunting

It was a good session catching bearded tits, reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler and sedge warbler. The whole reed bed was alive with the chatter of segdes and there were even some reed warbler there. These will build up steadily as they migrate in and then disperse leaving the breeding population.

The lapwing have begun to settle down and there seems to be a good number of redshank on the marsh and in the hay field. Hopefully we will see a higher than average year for these this year but its still early days. The lapwing are in low numbers but this is the same across many sites at the moment so hopefully they are just late arriving.

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The very noisy Sedge Warbler

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Sightings for week ending 08/01/2016

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Pintail Courtesy Alan Dunk

Managed a wander around a few of the sites this week in between work parties and odd jobs. Farlington had all the usual that you would expect. Notably Pintail and Avocet are in large numbers on the lake at the moment. I got an awesome view of one of the Spotted Redshank up by the building. Unfortunately my camera was in the truck rather than around my neck, as is the way.

There are at least two Short Eared Owls still hanging around. One seems to like to roost in a gorse bush on the east side of the point field, which can be seen easily from the gate on that side.

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SEO courtesy Alan Dunk

On a side note there were signs up saying ‘no entry to the point field’. We did not place these and access to the field is still open and always will be. Please stick to the footpath and be conscientious of the birds and other people.

There have been a number of Reed Buntings spotted around the reed bed. The Bearded Tits, as usual, are remaining elusive.

The usual array of woodland birds can be seen at Swanwick Lakes. Marsh Tit, Bullfinch, Coal Tit and Siskin are good ones to watch out for. On the lakes there are plently of Gadwall and a Kingfisher is around.

 

 

 

Spring Cometh

Well looks like spring could well be on the way; Wheatears are fastly being reported up and down the country and I even heard my first ‘proper’ Chiffchaff (I’d like to think it is one that hasn’t over wintered) down at Farlington today! The Brent are also looking like they have very itchy feet too and if I was a betting man I would put money on them leaving next week, once this wind changes direction back to a south westerly, aiding their journey northwards.

Elsewhere down on Farlington the volunteers and I started on our long list of fencing jobs by doing battle with the fence line near the hut, which needed reinstating. They did a cracking job – so good in fact I’d be pleased if a contractor had produced such a straight, taut piece of fencing. We still have a bit to finish off but you get the idea from the photo below.

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed....

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed….

Unfortunately being so close to the busy A27 left little scope for seeing or hearing much nature but while sitting eating lunch we did see a small colourful butterfly. I didn’t get a good look at it but I think it was either a Small tortoiseshell or a Comma. Later in the afternoon, however, while grabbing some more fenceposts I did get a good look at a Peacock butterfly basking on the warm woodwork.

After we had packed up all the tools and the volunteers had left, I drove up the main track to turn the truck around. In the fields behind the building were a dozen Curlew feeding and a pair of Reed buntings in the adjacent reed bed. The showy male hung around for a while and I even managed to get some photos.

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Male Reed bunting

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Curlew

The Brent are looking very flighty now and all took off numerous times in very large flocks – tell tale signs that they soon will be returning to their summer stomping grounds. Before they all took off I managed to see two adult birds with colour rings. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the rings in the long grass though but it was nice to see that there are still some (old) birds hanging around in the flocks.

Colour ringed Brent goose

Colour ringed Brent goose

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Beardies, Buntings and Shorties

Being the Trust’s Strategy Lead for Planning, means that I don’t get out of the office much and when I do it is usually to attend a meeting at a Council office, and not to visit one of our nature reserves. Weekends however are completely the opposite and I try to spend as much time as I can possibly get away with out in the field. I am an enthusiastic birder and have been a qualified bird ringer for 20 years, and as such spend most of my time up to my knees in mud or in reed beds.

I have lived in Hampshire all my life and know the coast extremely well, and particularly some of Trust’s coastal reserves. Farlington Marshes has been a regular haunt of mine since 1980 and over the years it has fulfilled the role as a great birding and ringing site for me. The variety of bird species I have recorded over the years is probably only matched by another of my regular haunts, Titchfield Haven, although I must admit I haven’t actually ever tallied up the lists.

This last weekend (31st Oct – 1st Nov) was one where I had planned to ring at Farlington Marshes on the Sunday morning and met up with a colleague at 06:30 in order to set our nets. It was a damp and dreary morning and the marsh was shrouded in dense fog when we arrived. Undeterred we persevered and by the end of the session had ringed around 30 birds. The bulk of our catch was made up of Reed Buntings and given the fact that most of the birds were caught first thing, we assumed that they had been roosting in the vicinity of our nets.

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Reed Bunting (male)

As would be expected in a reed bed, the diversity of species ringed was low, and other than the reed bunts our catch consisted of a Robin, Wren, three Cetti’s Warblers and two Bearded Tits. Bearded Tit was one of our target species; good numbers breed at the marsh, but recently they have been feeding in the reeds at the head of the lake, so we were really chuffed to catch some. Male Bearded Tits are truly stunning species and one that you never get bored of handling.

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Bearded Tit (male)

After the session I headed home to dry out and have a spot of breakfast, but within an hour I was back on the marsh. By this time the fog had lifted, it was calm, warm and sunny and the tide was rising, the ideal conditions for a spot of birding. I had been birding on the marsh on the previous Sunday (25th October) after news broke of the White-rumped Sandpiper, and on that visit had seen a cracking view of a Short-eared Owl. It had been reported that there could be as many as four now frequenting the marsh, and it was really that and the desire to get some flight shots of them, that had lured me back.

I had been on the reserve for less than five minutes when I picked up the first one, and over the next hour and a half was treated to some fantastic views. Four birds were out in various locations, but periodically their paths would cross and I would be treated to spectacular aerial sorties and vocalisations. They were ranging widely over the reserve, sometimes flying high like a giant bat, only to drop back down a quarter over the grassland. I was intrigued to note that three of them were more richly coloured and when I got home decided to read up. It appears that adult birds tend to be distinctly paler, and males paler than females. The dark markings are much bolder in male birds also, and this has led me to believe that one of the birds may be an adult male.

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Short-eared Owl

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Short-eared owl

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Short-eared Owl

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Short-eared Owl homing in on prey

As I worked my way around the marsh back towards my car, stopping at the lake to take in the roosting waders, I found it difficult to ignore the owls that were constantly feeding in the background. In the distance I could see a bird quartering over the islands beyond the sea wall, so it could be that as many as five birds were present, but I couldn’t rule out that one had flown over there. The frequency with which Short-eared Owls turn up on the marsh varies from winter to winter, but this is undoubtedly one of the best years for a while. I would urge you to get down and enjoy the spectacle whilst it lasts as they are such tremendous birds.