Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Here Ed Drewitt takes us through some of the stages of Bird ringing which enables us to record and study the growth and numbers of our British birdlife.


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5am on a Saturday and the promise of a fantastic dawn chorus walk, led by budding ornithologist Alex Rhodes, saw me dragging myself out from under the duvet covers and down to Arnos Vale Cemetery almost before the birds had even started singing.

Early morning stroll around Arnos Vale for the dawn chorus

Early morning stroll around Arnos Vale for the dawn chorus

The huge variety of habitats at Arnos Vale meant that we were privileged enough to witness the spectacle of the dawn chorus in all its glory, and we were treated to a tally of species which included wrens, robins, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, bullfinches, goldcrests, blackbirds, woodpeckers and even a cuckoo. Truly impressive!

Birdwatching on the dawn chorus walk

Birdwatching on the dawn chorus walk

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Check out some of the One Minute Interviews we have conducted over the course of the afternoon…

1. Kathryn, Media Team member

2. Alex, Resident Ornithologist

3. Becky, Guide

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Mistle thrush egg

Mistle thrush egg

While out filming Ed Drewitt doing some more ringing this morning I managed to come across this egg fragment nestled in the grass beneath the trees.

It is a gorgeous dusky blue colour with a host of brown speckles and has been identified, thanks to Ed’s expertise, as a mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) egg.

A mistle thrush was heard (but not seen) this morning on the dawn chorus walk, and the egg acts to provide more evidence of their presence.

Mistle thrush egg

Mistle thrush egg

Sadly though it seems that this egg hadn’t hatched as there was evidence of predation. It’s amazing how much you can find out about what lives here at Tyntesfield without even seeing the bird in question!

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Ed Drewitt is still at it, ringing birds captured in his mist nets. Having been up since 4.30am, he’s understandably a bit worn out now!

This male great spotted woodpecker is the first that Ed has caught at the BioBlitz, despite having seen a few flying around the site! While females have a white patch on the head, the male’s is a striking red.

Great Spotted Woodpecker adult male

Adult male great spotted woodpecker

Yesterday we rung a male blackcap, and today we’ve caught a female, showing her distinctive brown head. Her brood patch reveals that she’d recently been incubating eggs and most likely has a chicks waiting for her in a nest somewhere.

Female blackcap

Adult female blackcap

Finally, this juvenile dunnock probably only left the nest 3 or 4 days ago! Unlike its parents, this young one has a mottled head. These are shy birds which frequently hide away in the bushes.

Young dunnock

Juvenile dunnock

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Checking the amount of fat and muscle

Examining fat and muscle level

Our birdman Ed has been catching and ringing all kinds of birds since yesterday morning. We asked him what it’s all about and how it can help us to better understand our feathered friends.

Why are you ringing birds?

It’s a way of identifying and recording individual birds, so that if they’re caught again we can tell where they’ve been and how they’ve developed. This can give us valuable information about their lives and behaviour.

What information are you collecting?

As well as the species, we check the gender and estimate the age of the bird. We measure the size and wingspan and also assess levels of fat and muscle. We use a sensitive spring balance to weigh the birds, too.

What do you do with the information?

We use it for our own researh, but we also submit it to a central database maintained by the British Trust for Ornithology. They can  make our data available to researchers across the world.

How do you ring the birds?

First we need to catch them. We’re doing that here today with a large net strung between two poles. But there are various other ways of catching birds, depending on what species we are looking for and how big they are.

We attach a small ring to the bird’s leg. This will stay with them for life. We can ring birds at any age, once they have started to develop their first feathers. It’s completely painless and the ring won’t get in their way at all.

What information is on the ring?

The ring has a unique registration number and the address of the British Museum. If anybody catches the bird again, they know that they can contact the museum to access the data that we’ve collected today.

Do you often catch birds that have already been ringed?

Yes, we do. Most of them are quite local, but at Chew Valley, where I usually work, we’ve caught swallows that have flown here from South Africa and warblers from Spain. It’s really exciting to see how far they’ve travelled.

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A true media star

Blackbird close-up

Introducing Bruce the Blackbird

This is Bruce the Blackbird. Our birdman Ed caught him in his net earlier this morning, and he became an instant hit with out media team.

He posed calmly for our cameras with a nonchalance that belied his tiny 94g weight. Having been examined, measured and ringed he threw us a final wink and headed off on his way.

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Ed and the wren

We’ve just been down into the woods to catch up with Ed Drewitt, our resident bird specialist. And he had a bit of a task on his hands. A tiny wren had flown to the net that Ed and his team had set up, and it had managed to get itself rather tangled.

A wren in the net

A bit tangled...

Ed says that this is quite common when catching birds in this way, but that they usually stay fairly calm and are a lot more robust that you’d expect. It’s quite an art to free them, though, and Ed has been specially trained to do it correctly without harming or stressing the birds.

It was a tense twenty minutes for Ed and his crew, but with diligence and concentration they were soon able to free the little bird. They decided not to ring this one, so it was soon flying free again.

The wren released

...but not for long

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Why would you need this when ringing birds? Answers in the comments please! We’ll reveal all later…

What's this for?

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While many of you were sound asleep in your beds a few of us lucky enthusiasts enjoyed the most beautiful sunrise on the dawn chorus walk.

Dawn chorus walk

Dawn chorus walk

The walk started at 4.30am with an intense chorus of birds greeting us in the car park where we met Ed Drewitt who provided us with his great knowledge of bird song. Notable vocals heard during the walk included gold crests, blackbirds, chiff chaffs, great tits, tawny owls and many more.  As the sun gradually rose higher in the sky the bird song intensity decreased as if someone had turned the volume down.

We also saw some hares, a first for Tyntesfield, roe deer, squirrels and rabbits, well worth getting out of bed for! Look out for the video coming soon…

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