Blog Category | Ringing
The story ended last night with us all just a little miffed that the water was not back on and we had been working hard on the hill all day. As duty dishwasher I was particularly unimpressed. The quote of the day (from a RAFOS member) was "No wife of mine goes outside in the pitch dark to collect water from the bowser...Here love, take my head torch!"
Our recorder was absent birdwatching today so the team is down to 3. Not good as we are expecting the high numbers of birds from yesterday to be repeated today. And so it was with all of us laden with bird bags after the first round including two Red-necked Nightjar (pictured below) and a Eurasian Nightjar. Julia Springett was volunteered to go around again as Carl Powell and I started processing the birds (we believe in equality here). Having ringed all birds with nothing particularly out of the ordinary, it was off again to clear the nets. A very small dark bird excited interest and proved to be our first Dartford Warbler! Very much a 'Spanish bird' we hardly expected to see one on migration. It was poorly prepared for its flight across the Straits and had the minimum of fat aboard. Carl then extracted an Orphean Warbler from the nets. Such a very large warbler, the juvenile, as this was, is a dull bird and not as distinctively marked as some guides would have it. On virtually the last round of the day, we went from dull to flamboyant and took the first Hoopoe out of the nets. This one was an adult female, and I have to say that this bird is more impressive flying away than in the hand where it is difficulty to appreciate the full plumage.
Last point it that when we released the Red-necked Nightjar, it flew up the track on which we were ringing. Unknown to us, it then landed on the track and we walked past it repeatedly throughout the day, its camouflage plumage working perfectly. It took a call of nature for the bird to decide that this was really going too far and it flew a few feet into thicker vegetation where it alighted on a rock to resume its daylight slumbers.
Yesterday's lesson appeared to be to expect the Gibraltar weather to turn at a moment's notice - from still to squall in seconds. Don't trust the water system was another lesson that we learned after the blog went to bed. The joy of carrying water from bowser to loos pales quickly - no pun intended. So a late start this morning as the wind was already high and we needed to replace some guy lines in the dawn light. The new Song Thrush tape worked wonders and the first net round showed a huge fall of birds. It became obvious that we were just going to have to continually empty nets, changing ringers after each collection. Seventy one Blackcaps and fifteen Garden Warblers later, I am SO looking forward to a Blue Tit but it was not to be. The gusty wind managed to wrap a net around some old barbed wire and extraction proved difficult but this was the only net closed all day. A pity as it seemed to be on the very steep transit route up the hill for Song Thrushes. More a test of consistent ageing and sexing under pressure than the chance to have really long looks at some of the more distant migrants but this was broken briefly in the early afternoon with the appearance of a juvenile Stonechat - all spots and streaks. Although looking very much like a female, evidence of some early black feathers and white collar suggested it was more likely to be a male. The day was disappointing for raptors and only a few Sparrowhawks and Booted Eagles were seen through the low cloud.
A visit to Jew's Gate followed in order to upload 109 birds into IPMR (and of course to check on progress at the only other ringing site on Gibraltar). Despite being separated by only a mile and a half and due south of us at the southern end of the Rock, they have not yet picked up any of our birds. We appear to catch more birds but we probably have more footage of nets. Species caught are very similar with the glaring exception of Scops Owl which we have yet to hear anywhere near Bruce's Farm or Middle Hill. But they have running water...
One of the buzzes with ringing during migration is that anything may drop in and we have had plenty of species over the last fortnight. It seems odd to get excited about the first Chaffinch or even the first Song Thrush and weirdly we look forward to the first Dunnock and Dartford Warbler. Today, with the addition of John and Sue Wells from RAFOS, and with the prospect of a further two European Nightjars, nets were opened in the mist and gloom of the Lavante on the upper slopes. The first net round was the most productive so far and provided a baptism of fire for Sue , our new recorder, with 19 birds including the Song Thrushes. The second round was equally productive but provided us with a new pipit. It is one thing to see pipits in familiar territory and habitat but another to take a new bird out of the net - names into the hat time! This was obviously a juvenile bird with all the inherent dangers, not all guides are good at providing plates of young birds. Time to fall back on convention and start with the obvious contenders, while at the same time proving that it is not something else. The lead picture of a juvenile Tawny Pipit gives the result away but it was by no means clear cut. The photos were of use later to Charles Perez in confirming that it was the start of the Tawny Pipit movement through Gibraltar. Phew!
With such large numbers of birds being netted - a total of 61 birds in only a few net rounds - it was obvious that we would have to close the nets in the face of increasing winds. Fate beat us to it and a vital guy line broke in the upper line of nets bringing neighbouring nets down to the ground. Wild asparagus sounds innocuous but cacti would have been easier to remove from the nets. Now resembling a herbaceous border or well manicured hedge, the painstaking task of defoliating the nets began. We were later than usual getting away today.
Yet another day when you just don't know what's around the corner, prospects not being hopeful for a large catch with dawn breaking with clear skies, and Mark and Robin due to catch the plane home mid morning. A quick credit to Mark Cutts whose company, advice, ID skills, and IT know-how, and his matelot sense of humour, will be very much missed by us all. Greatest accolade we can pay must be his grinning mug as lead picture on an AOS blog!
In semi darkness and with the nets opened, we watched a couple of fly pasts by a Red-necked Nightjar and thought little further about it. A later net round and there was a nightjar in the tape lure net - but surprisingly, a European Nightjar. Clearing the last net of the round and a long way from the tape lure was our fly-past bird, the Red-necked. Big grins all round from the guys who ringed them and Mark forgot for once to mention 'bloody A ringers'. Great chance to compare the two young birds and their respective sizes and plumage, though both hissed and gape-threatened throughout.
John Hughes arrived to help with the recording leaving only myself and Carl Powell to ring while the others visited the airport. Probably just as well as catches were poor but still including Redstarts, Nightingales, Garden Warblers and Iberian Chiffchaffs. The Whitethroats are still causing us to double check for Subalpine but no reshows as yet. Tomorrow the long promised levante returns with a complete shift in the wind from west to east and hopefully an increase in numbers...maybe... Oh, the AOS has just opened a Twitter account - I must be getting too much sun.
A really bad day if you are a black cat caught eating birds in the nets yesterday, but a good day for the rest of us - 'nuff said. Also, call off the search for John Hughes. He appeared like an 18th century explorer out of the blue having walked in from Spain, climbed to the top of the Rock, visited the (wrong) Bruce's Farm - the one that rehabilitates drug addicts, and found us up on the ringing site. Missing the pith helmet but really great to see him.
Not quite the same numbers as yesterday but still 44 birds ringed. The best was undoubtedly Orphean Warbler (pictured) which everyone seemed to have ringed except me. Another ringing tick then. Thankfully, a yellow eye and no barring allowed ID and ageing and the lighter head colour suggested a female. Once again a Whitethroat remained a Whitethroat despite an attempt to 'sex it up'. Lots of Garden Warblers coming in now and the Pied Flies have mostly moved on. Always nice to see old favourites and Robins and Blue Tits are building up numbers.
Leaving Robin and Julia to download results, Mark Cutts insisted on a nostalgic tour of downtown Gibraltar before he leaves tomorrow. Bad idea. We apparently visited (in Matelot terms) the Donkey's Flip-flop and the Mad Monk. Unable to walk much further but with Services ingenuity and following a short visit to the Botanical Gardens, we caught a passing cable car to the Peak (photo) and let gravity help us find Bruce's Farm on the way down. Will sleep well!