Sunday, December 31, 2000

Bird Ringing at Ockham & Wisley

Title: Bird Ringing at Ockham & Wisley
Continent: Europe
Country: England
State / Province: Surrey
Participants:Rich Mooney, Susan Frost, Alan Martin.
By Rich Mooney & David Boddy

Emily helping daddy with the baby birds
Ockham and Wisley Commons are located at the intersection of the A3 and M25 in north Surrey. Ringing studies started here in 1997 with the permission and support of the head ranger David Boddy. David has been managing both sites for 10 years now and has done an enormous amount of work to improve the habitat, especially for heathland birds. Initially only the tit boxes were being monitored, and a few target species such as Hobby and Nightjar. But in January 2000 it was decided to introduce a feeder station in Ockham, so that its use could be monitored during the winter months and hopefully retrap some of the tits from the nest boxes. This has proved very productive and accounted for 445 new birds of 20 species.

What follows is an introduction to the site (written by David Boddy) and a brief summary of the activities during the past four years, including the feeder station results and annual ringing totals.

History and Habitat
Wisley & Ockham Commons were formerly the manorial waste land (commonland) of the parishes of Wisley, Ockham and Cobham. Chateley Heath was the common for Cobham. The origin of Heathland on the Commons was around the Stone Age & Bronze Age times when clearance of woodland by humans began. Tree felling affected the soil structure and nutrients were washed out of the top horizons of the soil. This left the sandy, acidic and grey coloured soil we see today. Heather was one of the few plants to be able to survive these harsh conditions. The rights of the Common allowed villagers to exploit the commons for various uses despite the land being owned by the Lord of the Manor. The commoners had grazing rights so over time the area of Heathland increased as stock grazed out trees and heather flourished. The cutting of birch and gorse for fuel also kept the heath open. Commoner’s activities created diversity of habitat for wildlife, in addition to maintaining the heath itself. Coppicing gorse created habitat for Dartford Warbler and similarly coppicing birch benefited Nightjars.

From about the 1600s onwards subsistence economy which made heathlands viable declined, as for example, coal was used as fuel rather than heathland materials. The special character of heaths declined and trees reinvaded, particularly after grazing stopped. In 1871 commoners’ rights were removed from Ockham though not from Wisley, this may be why today Ockham has very little heath and is dominated by Scot’s Pine. The heathland restoration programme at the moment includes grazing on Wisley, removal of willow scrub by our volunteers and turning the pine plantations back to heath. Using techniques such as scraping and ground disturbance we hope to encourage one of our rarest birds to breed, the Woodlark.  This winter Hunt’s copse in Wisley will be cut for coppice. This management will improve the structural diversity of the wood, prolong the life of the coppice hazel stools, encourage Bluebells, and possibly in the future maybe nightingales will sing again in Hunts copse.

Study Objectives
·         to monitor the breeding success of nest boxes
·         to maintain accurate records of all activities, including the submission of nest record cards
·         to confirm breeding or presence of specific target species (Hobby, Nightjar, Woodlark)
·         to establish a feeding station and monitor its use during the winter by weekly mist netting
·         to carry out some autumn mist netting 

Summary of Activities
Ringing at both sites started in May 1997 with the inspection of the tit boxes that were already in place. Great Tit and Blue Tit occupy the majority of boxes, although it is hoped that Marsh Tit might turn up. The first attempt to catch Nightjar on Ockham using a mist net and tape lure was made on June 17th and was successful, producing two birds, a male and female. Four other attempts were made to catch Nightjar on the Wisley site during July but no birds were caught. A male came in close to the net on two occasions but didn’t seem overly concerned and even started ‘churring” in a nearby bush. A female was also seen one evening.

Conor checking the tit boxes
1998 started well with a good spring, and again lots of Blue Tits and Great Tits to ring. Three attempts to catch Nightjar were made on Ockham in June with no joy. Unfortunately it was a very wet month and the conditions were less than perfect when we did get out. Luckily birds were seen and heard by David at least confirming they were there.

July produced quite an exciting discovery, the location of a Hobby nest. This however became a rather anxious time for all involved, as we detected that at the top of the tree there were fresh ‘spike holes’ caused by climbing irons. There was sap coming out of the holes proving someone else had been up to the nest recently! David mounted counter measures against the possible ‘eggers’ (egg thieves) which included around the clock observation by dedicated volunteers to watch the nest. Luckily on the 4th August all the hard work paid off with three healthy young Hobbys being ringed. All three fledged and were seen hunting with the parents late into September.

1999 was not that productive in terms of birds ringed as work and family commitments did not allow me to spend as much time at these sites as I wished. I did however manage to get around the tit boxes, which produced the first brood of Coal Tit. Again, no success with catching Nightjars this year, but once more birds were heard by David at the Ockham site. A pair of Hobby managed to raise another brood this year though the nest was not located, by any parties! Three young birds and two adults were seen hawking for dragonflies over Teal Pond, Wisley in late August.

Into the Millennium
It was decided at the annual ringing conference in Swanwick that we should set ourselves some aggressive site ringing targets for the millennium. This gave the incentive to get the feeder station up and running. The first station was situated in David’s garden, which backs onto Ockham Common. It consisted of two posts fixed in the ground about three feet apart, and each post had a cross section attached to the top to attach four feeders. Peanuts were provided in normal metal feeders and red bags to attract Siskin, and black sunflower seed was also provided for Greenfinch and tits. One forty foot net ran parallel to the feeders and another thirty foot net along the back of the garden. On occasions nets were also put up in the adjacent field, running through a thin willow hedge and proved quite good for catching Blackbird and Song Thrush. The variety and number of birds that were caught over a period of three months was excellent, taking into account the nets were only open for a period of about 4hrs once a week. As well as 445 new birds caught, we retrapped 4 Blue Tits and 1 Great Tit from the nest boxes.

There were also 4 birds controlled at this site, two Blue Tits (from Staines and Ripley) and two Siskins. One of these Siskins was ringed in Finland, an exceptional movement of 1,588 kms, and the other was from the Highland Region of Scotland. Full details of these movements are included in the appendices.

Spring 2000 started well with the first brood of Tawny Owl being ringed. They were using a nest box that David had put up in his garden a few years ago. The male and female were heard calling in February, which prompted me to check the box, as until then it had only produced Squirrels. Although we didn’t manage to catch the adult, three young were ringed. We also found two prey species in the box; Yellow Necked Mouse and Bank Vole.

Blue Tit
There was an apparent decline in Blue Tit occupancy of the Tit boxes this year with only three broods ringed, though we did get nine broods of Great Tit, the most so far. Some of the boxes had fallen down and Great Spotted Woodpecker had drilled at least two boxes out. We also had one case on the south side (Wisley) where someone had pulled the chicks out of the nest box and stamped on them. With this appalling vandalism in mind any obviously visible boxes at Wisley will be relocated to the Ockham site this winter. Interestingly a female Great Tit that had been ringed in January at the feeder station was re-trapped twice, at two different nest boxes, both of which had young. Another highlight of the summer was the ringing of 2 broods of Spotted Flycatchers, one in the churchyard at Ockham and the other in a garden nearby.

For the second winter period it was decided to move the feeder station from David’s garden to Well Cottage, the site of one of the pairs of flycatchers. A similar arrangement of feeders and 2 nets was set up and operated on 7 dates between early November and December, producing primarily large numbers of tits. The closeness of the two sites has predictably produced a large number of retraps from the previous winter (31 birds) and some from the nearby nest boxes (11) plus one Great Tit from north of the A3 at Wisley. This site has clear potential to attract large numbers of finches, and 2 Siskins trapped on the 7th December were our first for the winter. The owners of Well Cottage, Mr and Mrs Watson are extremely welcoming and supportive, and further visits through the remainder of the winter and early spring are planned.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all their help over the past few years. To the members of A.R.G. who have all at one time or another contributed, to David & Sam & Neil before he ran off to be a Fireman, and to Mr and Mrs Watson. But especially to the volunteers who have put so much time and effort in without thought of reward. Not forgetting Surrey County Council who kindly brought me two new mist nets.

Monday, October 30, 2000

Fringilla-Russia 2000 by Alan Martin

The traps at Fringilla
           Last year’s A.R.G. report included an article by Richard Mooney on his visit to Rybachy with Bob Gifford and Andy Welch for a week in October. In 2000 Richard returned to Russia, this time for 2 weeks in September with Alan. Whilst on the first visit they spent more of their time at the Rybachy ringing station, this time the entire period was spent amongst the dune area of Fringilla situated in the centre of the Courish Spit. This site uses the characteristic ‘Rybachy’  (Heligoland) traps rather than mist-nets and offers considerable more freedom to visiting ringers.
            The weather was changeable during the period covered. At the start of the visit the weather was generally mild and westerly, moving more southerly and getting windier and wet on the 13th and 14th. On the 15th the weather improved and the wind moved easterly, resulting in mass movements of finches (mostly Chaffinches and Siskins, and Bramblings from 16/9).
            Although birds could be seen or heard constantly passing over the woods, it was only by watching from the dunes that the extent of the passage could be appreciated. Sample counts suggested that at there peak as many as half a million finches were passing overhead in a single day. Flocks of Jays and large numbers of tits were also moving over, but the most spectacular migration for us was the raptors, especially on the 15th and 16th. Few birds were seen on the inland lake, but from the 16/9 the numbers and variety of birds on the sea or flying south also improved.
            3 Rybachy (heligoland) traps were in use each day, although traps 5 and 8 which faced SW caught nearly all the birds (trap 4 faced NE). Daylight was about 7:00 a.m. and it was dark at about 8:00 p.m., after which we amused ourselves either trying to catch owls or drinking vodka. The first drive of the traps at 7:00 a.m. was usually rather disappointing unless there were numbers of Robins moving, such as on 12/9 and 15/9, with most birds starting to move as the sun became brighter. The strong easterly winds were better for observing birds than trapping them, as birds generally fly higher and faster with a tail wind.
Ringing hut
            On most nights a line of high nets were set with tape lures playing Reed Warbler and Pied Flycatcher song. These produced some warblers, Robins and bats even in high wind. On several mornings some of the nets were left open for a few hours, and these produced both Bluethroats and the 1st Black Redstart.
            On two afternoons 3 nets were opened around a small pond in the wood, but these generally only produced retrap tits (including Crested and Marsh), although some excellent birds such as Red-breasted Flycatcher were seen in the area but avoided capture.
            There were 4 Russian scientists based at Fringilla for most of the period (Misha Markovets, Leonid Sokolov, Anatoli Shapoval and Marc Shumakov), but 2 German students were also present for some of the time (Julia Delingat and Pia Reufsteck). At Rybachy we met the Director (Casimir Bolshakov) and his main assistants (Nikita Chernetsov and Nadejda Zelenova). The nocturnal netting at Fringilla was carried out by Andrei Mukhin and Vladimir Fedorov.
Black Redstart


Crested Tit
            A total of 108 species were recorded, of which 45 were ringed or retrapped. The total number of birds ringed whilst we were present was 1,556, the most common species being Goldcrest, Robin, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch and Great Tit.  The weather was certainly not ideal for ringing during our visit, but it did give us a chance to witness the most remarkable visible migration you could ever see. The residents welcome visiting ringers and the potential that the site has for mass ringing is second to nowhere. As an example in our last few days we caught a few Long-tailed Tits, but by the end of October they had ringed a total of 19,800, a site record.
            Every trip has its special memories. For me it was watching vast numbers of finches and raptors migrating along the coast, collecting amber from the tideline and of course, handling some unusual species such as Hen Harrier, Merlin, Cuckoo, Woodcock and Black Redstart. I have no doubt we will return, maybe in spring next time?

Hen Harrier
Systematic List
Unless otherwise stated, all records relate to the ringing station at Fringilla.

Great Northern Diver: a single on the sea on 16/9.
Black-throated Diver: c. 8 on the 17/9 and 20+ on the 18/9.
Great-crested Grebe: 6-20 on each day from 16/9.
Red-necked Grebe: 2 on the sea with the Great Crested Grebes on 17/9.
Cormorant: seen regularly, with several large flocks of 20+.
Grey Heron: commonly seen from the beach and over the dunes.
White Stork: 5 on 7/9 near the airport.
Mute Swan: 2 on the small pond at the Rybachy Ringing Station.
Bean Goose: small flocks of geese, thought mostly to be Bean, seen on most days flying SW over the sea or the dunes.
Wigeon: 4 on 17/9 over the sea.
Teal: several small flocks seen from the beach.
Mallard: 30+ at Rybachy on the lake
Pintail: 4 on 17/9 over the sea.
Shoveler: one on 17/9 over the sea.
Tufted Duck: 5 on 17/9 over the sea.
Red-breasted Merganser: small groups seen on several occasions flying over the sea or moving across the dunes towards the lake.
Osprey: one flying SW just after dawn on 15/9.
White-tailed Sea Eagle: 1 to 4 birds seen almost daily.
Spotted Eagle sp: 2 on 15/9, 3 on 16/9 and 1 on 17/9, all moving SW.
Honey Buzzard: 5 on 15/9 and 1 on 16/9.
Buzzard: seen in small numbers almost daily, with a maximum of c.10 in a day.
Rough-legged Buzzard: 2 on 15/9 and singles on 17/9 and 18/9.
Marsh Harrier: c.5 seen near the airport on 7/9, and several single birds seen at Fringilla.
Hen Harrier: small numbers seen daily with max of c.30 on 16/9. 2 trapped.
Goshawk: singles on 16/9 and 17/9.
Sparrowhawk: common. 36 ringed (mostly males and all immatures), and estimated 500+ seen during the period covered. Minimum of at least 100 flying SW on the 16/9.
Kestrel: one on 15/9.
Merlin: one trapped on 9/9 chasing a Cuckoo, and singles seen on 7/9 (at Rybachy) and 15/9.
Hobby: singles on 9/9 and 15/9, and 5 on 17/9.
Peregrine: one on 15/9.
Ringed Plover: small numbers on the beach on each visit.
Golden Plover: one on the beach on 18/9.
Grey Plover: 2 on the beach on 16/9 and one on 17/9.
Sanderling: 10+ on the beach on one visit.
Little Stint: one on the beach on 18/9.
Knot: one on the beach on 18/9.
Dunlin: a few on the beach on each visit.
Woodcock: one driven into the trap on the 16/9.
Redshank: one on the beach on 17/9.
Little Gull: 12+ off the beach on 17/9 and 4 on 18/9.
Black-headed Gull: common.
Common Gull: a few seen regularly on the beach.
Herring Gull: a few seen regularly on the beach.
Great Black-backed Gull: common.
Sandwich Tern: a single off the beach on 15/9
Woodpigeon: seen daily, small flocks moving SW.
Cuckoo: singles caught on 11/9 and 12/9, with 2 caught on 9/9.
Tawny Owl: a single caught on 10/9, and birds heard calling on several other nights
Wryneck: a single caught and ringed on 7/9 en-route to Rybachy from the airport.
Black Woodpecker: a single flying through the woods on 15/9
Great Spotted Woodpecker: heard regularly and seen on one occasion.
Woodlark: seen in small numbers almost daily in the dunes. Max of c.12.
Skylark: seen regularly in small numbers in the dunes.
Swallow: common, birds apparently moving in all directions, usually into the wind. 3 caught on 11/9.
House Martin: occasionally seen at Fringilla.
Meadow Pipit: seen regularly in small numbers in the dunes.
Tree Pipit: one caught on 15/9, and birds regularly heard calling as they flew over.
Yellow Wagtail: occasional birds seen or heard in the dunes. 3 ringed.
White Wagtail: common. 55 ringed.
Wren: common. 18 ringed.
Dunnock: birds trapped on 15/9 and 19/9 were the only records.
Robin: very common, especially at first light. 348 ringed.
Bluethroat: singles caught and ringed on 8/9 and 15/9.
Black Redstart: singles caught and ringed on 15/9 and 16/9.
Redstart: seen and trapped almost daily. 44 ringed with max of 14 on 12/9.
Whinchat: a single trapped on 13/9.
Wheatear: seen regularly in small numbers in the dunes. 17 ringed, mostly caught in spring traps.
Blackbird: occasional birds seen in the woods.
Fieldfare: one caught on 16/9, and several small flocks seen around this date.
Mistle Thrush: 2 heard on 16/9.
Redwing: a few heard flying over during the night of 14-15/9.
Song Thrush: occasional birds seen in the woods. One caught on 16/9.
Grasshopper Warbler: singles caught on 8/9 and 11/9, with 2 on 12/9.
Sedge Warbler: 14 caught in the early mornings, presumably attracted to the Reed Warbler tapes played through the night.
Reed Warbler: as for Sedge Warbler above, 34 caught.
Lesser Whitethroat: 3 birds caught, 2 on 11/9 and a single on 15/9.
Whitethroat: 6 birds caught, 3 on each of 11/9 and 12/9.
Garden Warbler: birds trapped on 6 days. 23 ringed
Blackcap: trapped on 4 days. 19 ringed.
Chiffchaff: surprisingly scarce, with one bird ringed on 12/9 and 2 on 18/9.
Willow Warbler: common in the first week, but fewer in the 2nd week. 142 ringed, of which 102 were on the 2 days from 11-12/9. A probable bird of the race P.t.yakutensis was ringed on 8/9.
Goldcrest: common, but numbers increasing dramatically on the last 2 days. 368 ringed, with in excess of 150 birds trapped on our last day before we left at 10.30am.
Spotted Flycatcher: seen on most days in small numbers. 12 ringed.
Red-breasted Flycatcher: one seen on 12/9.
Pied Flycatcher: one seen on 11/9 and 2 on 12/9.
Long-tailed Tit: none recorded until 3 flocks trapped on 18/9 and another 2 on 19/9. 41 birds ringed, all of the northern form.
Willow Tit: two birds retrapped on 19/9.
Marsh Tit: seen most days. One bird ringed on 18/9 and one retrapped on 12/9 .
Crested Tit: individuals seen on several days, with a bird retrapped on 12/9.
Coal Tit: common. 15 ringed.
Blue Tit: common and passing through in numbers. 65 ringed and 12 retrapped.
Great Tit: very common and large numbers passing over on some days. 101 ringed and 37 retrapped.
Treecreeper: common. 47 ringed, of which 28 were in the last 2 days
Red-backed Shrike: one at Rybachy on 7/9.
Jay: small flocks passing over on most days in the 2nd week, with a maximum of c.18 birds in a flock. One bird trapped on 18/9.
Magpie: several birds seen at Rybachy, but none at Fringilla.
Jackdaw: common at Rybachy.
Hooded Crow: common.
Raven: 2 birds regularly seen flying over.
Starling: common at Rybachy, and several small flocks seen moving SW.
House Sparrow: common at Rybachy.
Chaffinch: vast numbers seen daily, increasing as the wind turned easterly in the second week. At the peak passage on 17/9 in excess of 600 finches flying over per minute (mainly Chaffinch) which would suggest nearly half a million birds a day. 103 ringed.
Brambling: the first birds were heard on 16/9 and 2 were trapped the same day. Birds heard and seen frequently passing over with the Chaffinches each day from then on.
Greenfinch: common at Rybachy.
Goldfinch: a few birds seen at Rybachy.
Siskin: very common, with flocks constantly passing over in the second week and other birds feeding in the pines and alders, although only 6 were ringed. The 2nd most common diurnal migrant after Chaffinch.
Redpoll: one heard flying over on 16/9.
Yellowhammer: up to 6 birds seen regularly. 2 ringed and one retrapped.

Other species recorded
Bats: Noctule (Nyctalus noctula), Serotine (Eptesicus serotinus), Parti-coloured Bat (Vespertilio murinus), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Nathusius’s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii)

Brown Hare, Red Squirrel, Red Fox, Pine Marten.