This is foreseen to be an occasional blog relating to bird ringing at Abbotsbury Swannery. The site has operated as a BTO Constant Effort Site since 1995 and has taken part in the BTO Swallow Roost Project. In recent years we have concentrated in the autumn with both Yellow and Pied/White Wagtails. In 2009 we joined the Woodcock Network.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A finch morning.....

With the reed beds now practically devoid of bird life and the withy bed only productive early morning and late afternoon a couple of nets were positioned around the feeders for the end of the year to keep things ticking over and provide a platform for trainees over the winter months.

The first net round in the withy bed produced 5 Goldcrests and 2 Long-tailed Tits.  Around the feeders a steady stream of Blue Tits and a single Great Tit (where are they all?) was complemented by a nice little run of Greenfinch and Chaffinch.  The final net round in the withy bed produced a male Bullfinch. A few Robins and Dunnocks made up the rest of the numbers but 30 birds in 90 minutes was a worthwhile effort.

Of great interest was that I also caught the second ever House Sparrow down at the Swannery since 1995.  Perhaps they are creeping down as the cold weather kicks in

The weather looks to be deteriorating as the week goes on but may get another chance this week

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A touch of frost.....

Lovely frosty start today and the nets up just at the point of light.  Lots of Fieldfare and Redwing on the drive down to the gates. Crests calling and huge flocks of Woodpigeons moving west.  Despite the amazing migration in the skies above with Skylarks,Siskins, Redpolls, Chaffinchs and Bramblings all moving through the nets remained quiet.

However the gloom was lifted when 4 Lesser Redpoll were trapped out in the net in the reed bed. Delightful little birds. Other species trapped were Chiffchaff, Wren, Goldcrest, and Robin.

The previous two evenings had provided a couple of good sessions with plenty  of lingering Chiffchaffs trapped and a steady stream of Goldcrests. A Kingfisher ( a juvenile female) was trapped in the reed-bed ride as the sun was setting. Only the second one this Autumn- usually get more than this. Contact was also made with the tit flock at it moved back through the withy bed on Monday evening  and a start was made into the forty or so Long-tailed tits in the flock. A few calm evenings this week and correct timing should prove beneficial.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A touch of Eastern Promise

A couple of useful days of mornings and evenings recently at the Swannery with the mist nets in the withy bed and one run out in the reeds.

A noticeable number of Robins  was noted couple of mornings ago. Each net on each net round had couple of Robins in it.  Apparently there was a large fall on the East so I guess that they had slowly crept their way across South East and then South West Britain


 Good numbers of crests were caught a some larger winged chiffchaffs than usual.
However the best was yet to come when just on the point of dark this afternoon a Yellow-browed Warbler dropped into the net in the withy bed.
Over the past few evenings the Pied Wagtail roost which has returned to the reedbed has turned up trumps with more birds being colour ringed.  It looks as if the wind will curtail activity over the next few days but with a cold snap approaching things may get good again.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Always something new

A useful weekend at the Swannery until the wind picked this morning which put a stop to things. However the visiting ringer was not disappointed. Saturday afternoon saw 40 birds trapped and ringed including a late Grasshopper Warbler.  I have had Grass Snake, Water Vole, Dragonflies and Hornets in the mist net but this morning never one of these before from the top shelf

A three-spined stickleback

Shortly afterwards the likely culprit was trapped and ringed


A flurry of Robins occured on Saturday along with the tail end of the tit flock towards the end  of the session. Chiffchaffs featured mostly though.
Two heavy Sedge Warblers were also trapped- surely some of the last for this year now. They were both very heavy and had fat score 60.  Next stop for them Etang de Trunvel!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Almost all over...

Just when it was thought that the Yellow Wagtail passage was over this evening 11 birds were trapped during what was supposed to be a Pied/White Wagtail roost.  Three Pieds and two Whites were caught along with them and also a very juvenile looking  male Sparrowhawk.with the usual beady yellow eyes..

The last few days the evening sessions have swept up the remaining Reed and Sedge Warblers lurking in the reeds. Fat Scores of the Sedge Warblers a very impressive score of 50/60. The birds look like small thrushes.

As Luke mentioned on his blog some of these Yellow Wagtails look a little suspect..  Other races must pass though Southern England.  This evening one bird clearly had grey moulting through on the head rather than the usual colouring we are used to with the British flavissima wagtails. British yellow wagtails vary considerably but these birds are clearly different.with longer  wings and heavier weights.

A delicate subject. The more of these birds we catch the more questions we ask.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Turning yellow again

These last four evenings we have set the nets just before 7pm and managed to catch 415 yellow wagtails.  The roost each evening has been something in the order of 500-600 birds. Fantastic sight. A very special species- for me at least as I love wagtails.

On some evenings we have caught some strange yellow wagtails which has got Luke and I thinking. Luke has featured some of these on his blog.  There is no reason as to why Grey-headed, along with Blue-headed Wagtails should not drift across the south coast of this country from Fenno-Scandinavia and mainland Europe at this time of year. As usual with ringing more questions than answers but we are working on it..

Last night we caught our first white 'alba' wagtails for the autumn. Two splendid males along with two juveniles and 106 'yellow' wagtails.  The late evening ringing sessions are helped along with the odd  'tanglefoot' or an  'old speckled hen'.

Male 'alba' wagtail complete with colour rings
Head of male yellow wagtail- flavissima


Sunday, 2 September 2012


A senior moment the other evening. The wagtail was a Blue-headed Wagtail not a Grey-headed Wagtail. These things happen as you get older. It was still a nice bird. Of equal interest that night were the half dozen or so apparent female yellow wagtails which were biometrically much larger in weight, wing length and physical appreance. Very white on the chin and facial markings quite different from the yellow wagtails which we caught that evening. Young Yellow Wagtails vary considerably but these birds were quite different.

Hopefully this week we can catch some more and unravel the mystery. The weather looks favourable mid-week to the end of the week

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Yellow mist!

Pulling up at the Swannery gates last night we were greeted by a few 'seeps' from overhead Yellow Wagtails.  Speculation arose that perhaps a catch of thirty or so birds was on the cards that night.

Walking out to unfurl the nets a Black tern flew overhead at Helen's Hide and made for the round-up area but was quickly lost to view. An omen for sure!

Soon the Yellow Wagtails started to arrive along with the Swallows and Sand Martins. We quickly picked up a few Sedge and Reed Warblers and a late evening Garden Warbler was trapped in the withy bed. There is a certain cut off point in the light when the birds say 'that is it 'and go in to roost. 

Luke and I had our work cut out for twenty minutes. In total 87 Yellow Wagtails, 1 Grey-headed Wagtail (nice bird) and a couple of Pied Wagtails for good measure.  A handful of Swallows and Sand Martins - including a control Swallow. 

A good evening.  Hopefully going for more Yellow Wagtails this week if weather is kind. We are keen to surpass last years total.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

They're back!

After getting concerned about the lack of Yellow Wagtals at the site- only 2 observed till start of this week last night  the nets were set for a roost and 9 were caught from about the 30 birds present along with a good number of Swallows and odds and ends in the withy bed.. We were joined by  a member of the Axe Estuary Ringing Group who wanted some experience with roost ringing ( and also the chance of yellow wagtails). Despite the light breeze the evening proved successful with two pied wagtails also caught and colour ringed. The Pied Wagtail roost is slowly building up now.

An early morning session at the end of last week was brought to  a sudden halt when from nowhere it rained. Just as things were picking up at 61 birds. The best bird was the first one out of the net at first light - a Grasshopper Warbler. Sedge Warbler fat scores usual for juvs at about 20 and the few adults caught heavy with 50.


Weather looks grim for this evening but end of the week looks promising with high pressure and low winds- at the moment anyway!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Not dead yet!

Luke apologies for a month off line I can only grovel for what must seem like an eternity. After the preparation of the site for CES the season kicked off very badly weatherwise and after a couple of aborted sessions I decided to pull the plug on CES this year.  The weather was dreadful week after week and the conditions underfoot in the reeds were up to the top of, and indeed over, the waders.  Not ideal ringing conditions and sinking in further each time you walked the net line.  The water is still top of wader height!

The decision to pull out this year was not taken lightly but for safety issues alone looking back it was the right decision,  However we are on track for completing the final 4 CES visits which can make a contribution to CES.  So we have moved the net to higher ground and carried on.  Reeds in water produce better catches so with the net out of the water but surrounded both sides we will see how the rest of the season goes

The repositioned net run

Two catches this month have been made to date but it is certain far fewer sedge warblers are about and nearly all the young sedge and reed warblers caught have growth bars on the tail.

Sedge Warblers are the bread and butter of Abbotsbury Swannery.

Adult Sedge Warbler

Last night we tried a test run for Swallow and Yellow Wagtail roosts. The nets seem in a good position and perfect reed height for a good catch. A very quick sample of 50 odd Swallows and 10 Sand Martins was enough and the nets shut down to avoid being swamped as over 700 Swallows were present. Ringing discipline essential on nights like that

A delightful Reed Bunting was caught this morning in moult. Attractive birds which I am still convinced have a moult pattern of their own!

Hopefully will be trying a few more roosts this week and mid week winds are south east. Aquatic time- have to catch up the guys in Cornwall!!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Swannery update

Over the past two days habitat management at the CES site has taken place.  The most important  side of this is the regular coppicing of the withy bed.  Important to keep the vegetation height down - nothing over three metres and also to prolong the life of the sallow and willow stools.  A further beneift is the flooding of light  into the ground around the stools which promotes plant growth and provides opportunities for nesting birds.

Coppiced sallow and willow stools

To further enhance the condition of the reed beds certain areas of reed have been cut by the Swannery staff. This promotes good healthy new growth. Some years the reed is burnt after cutting and this removes all the rubbish at the base of the reed bed and helps maintain a good healthy environment.

Recently cleared reed bed

Of course during all this work the nets were opened where they could be.  The first Chiffchaffs have been trapped for the year and also a few odds and ends.  Just on finishing a Blue Tit was extracted from the net-  a fine male with an interesting plumage variation. Clearly it had been visiting nearby daffodil flowers.

The first Chiffchaff of the year

During the coppicing considerable evidence was found of the presence of the Lunar Hornet Clearwing moth. In one instance the saw just missed this larva stage

Lunar Hornet Clearwing larva in situ

Whilst working on another stool a fabulous excavation was seen

Larva excavation

Over the next few days the CES site will be brought back to  optimum conditions with the usual annual  management.  Then we will be ready for the returning Reed and Sedge Warblers in the reeds and the more usual fare in the withy bed.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A wagtail diversion

Although not all Abbotsbury Swannery there has been a recent interest in the wagtail project.  Diane, a local wagtail enthusiast,  forwarded some recent photographs of birds seen in Weymouth an then a recent email from Jack Winspear regarding a wagtail sighted at Sutton Poyntz kick started the wagtail project. 

This was followed  by a welcome telephone call from Matt at the Weymouth Port to say that the wagtail roost had returned to the harbour. The roost had moved earlier this winter and could not be found. The returning roost at the harbour presented a challenge to set a net but on the past two evenings nearly 40 birds have been caught including two retraps from previous years.

Recent birds have been colour ringed with full colour rings as below

Previous colour rings involved bicoloured rings which were not easy to see in the field. As shown below on the retrapped bird this evening.

Details of recent colour marked birds are;

L055800 ringed Weymouth Harbour 6th Feb 2010 and sighted at Sutton Poyntz 15th Feb 2012
L055761 ringed Weymouth Harbour 1st Feb 2010 and retrapped there 19th Feb 2012
L041798 ringed Weymouth Harbour 28th Dec 2009 and sighted in Weymouth Town 15th Feb 2012
X889811 ringed Abbotsbury Swannery 23rd Sept 2009 and sighted in Weymouth Town 15th Feb 2012
X889921 ringed Abbotsbury Swannery 12th Oct 2009 and retrapped at Weymouth Harbour 17th Feb 2012
X108053 ringed Abbotsbury Swannery 5th Aug 2011 and sighted in Weymouth Town 15th Feb 2012

Do keep  a lookout when out and about please.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Luke scores.............

As Luke has mentioned on his blog earlier this week we finally caught a Woodcock this winter. The conditions were almost tropical. It was +10C as we wandered around the water meadows. No crunching about in the frosty grass and no rock hard mud. A few more pictures of these magnificent birds. They really are a treat to have in the hand.

We always ring and process the birds over the net. That way you do not walk off afterwards  leaving the pliers or the rings in the grass in the dark. A tidy way to work and cost effective. A colder weekend is forecast so hopefully Luke and his net will work up some more magic!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Another painful morning!

The first calm morning this year was not wasted. An invitation to Doug from the Axe Estuary Ringing Group to join in proved to be a useful morning.  No exotics and the woodpeckers were there but  they turned shy on  seeing my guest. Even the Treecreepers teased us by feeding on the trees adjacent to the nets but not actually connecting with them.

Plenty of Blue and Great Tits at the feeders and also good numbers of Greenfinchs. A small highlight was trapping one of Lukes Greenfinchs from nearby Clouds Hill.

Blue Tit joining in where the  last woodpecker left off!

Even the Great Tit joined in!

A placid Dunnock

A couple of Goldfinch were also trapped. Not too many of these are trapped at the Swannery so these were a couple of good birds for the morning.

Male Goldfinch

Male Greenfinch

The morning ended assisting Dave with feeding the Mute Swans. Pochard and Tufted gleamed in the morning sunshine. Following on from this 'duck' link is the visit to Seaton Sunday morning when the next cannon net session will take place.  Luke and I are hoping for Godwits but expect Shelduck will  prevail. At least they have blunt bills!