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Reflection on the Autumn 2020 season

torsdag 31. december 2020
af Luke Nelson

Happy New Year to all of the Blåvand Fugelstation community, and I hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Before I left Blåvand I started making a summary of the Autumn ringing season and my experience at the station, but I didn’t get round to finishing it and posting it. As it’s the last day of the year, and a good point for reflection, I thought I would post it now to share with you.

July (20th onwards)

July was a slow month with not many birds in part due to multiple days of bad weather and passerine migration not fully started. I missed the first week when the highlight was a Common Sandpiper in the nets, only the fourth ringed here in an Autumn season! My ringing highlight was seeing my first Crested Tits in the hand.

https://www.blåvandfuglestation.dk/images/20200722_084400.jpg

August

The long-distance migrants started coming through in August dominated by Willow Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart and Garden Warbler. Compared to previous Augusts we didn’t catch many birds with several slow days, perhaps indicative of declines being seen in long-term migrant numbers, but could also be due to the weather. We had several days where it was too windy to ring, which Bent says is becoming more common in August.

Although slow with birds, I had a really enjoyable few weeks during the summer heatwave. Michael and I had good company at the station with Merit, Ole Fries Larsen, Andreas, David, Oliver and Emilia being around for varying lengths of time, with lots of good food shared and much card games played! The surrounding area was really beautiful at that time and full of life with House Martins flying around the lighthouse each day, many wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies emerging from the garden pond.

Ringing highlights during the month included a Wryneck in each garden, a grounded nestling House Martin, a Wood Warbler, a Norwegian ringed Willow Warbler, as well as Stonechat, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Rosefinch and Icterine Warbler which were new birds I hadn’t ringed before.

https://www.blåvandfuglestation.dk/images/20200818_174732.jpg

At the end of the month (30th) I had my first busy day with 85 birds and Bent helped extracting. We mostly caught Pied Flycatcher and Willow Warbler, as well as Common Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Whinchat which are all uncommon to catch here.

At the end of the month Rose arrived to stay for the rest of the season, as well as Jimmy for a week. After a summer break the military area was in use again, as I discovered when the ringing room started shaking from the impact of bombs dropped by planes! Later in the season we would work to the sound of tank shells and machine gun fire, a bizarre experience.

September

In September I could really feel the seasons change as autumn began proper. The House Martins left the lighthouse, leaves began to fall and mushrooms grow, and later in the month we would open the nets to the sound of Red Deer Stags roaring.

The mix of birds we were catching changed during the month too, as we ended up catching fewer long-distance migrants heading to Africa and more short-distance migrants heading to southern Europe. Robins replacing Redstarts and Chiffchaffs replacing Willow Warblers. It was also interesting for me to see birds like Dunnocks and Wrens starting to migrate through, as in the UK these are resident birds we don’t think of as migrants.

At the start of the month Michael, David and I got the flu (not corona!), but luckily it coincided with some windy days so I didn’t miss any ringing and had time to rest.

Daniel arrived to help with the ringing a week into September, and until the end of October, and was a big help for me this season, especially when we got busier with birds. He and Rose also baked us many treats, and together we went swimming in the sea often, and thanks to Daniel’s days as a guided tour in the Wadden sea learnt lots about life at the beach and down in the mudflats at Nyeng. Rose had a car which we took advantage of on some windy days with a trip birding to Filso, a wetland birding area, as well as food shopping.

There was an irruption of Great Spotted Woodpeckers this season, and we caught 9, the second highest number in an Autumn, mostly in September. Our ears and fingers certainly noticed!

Ringing highlights of the month include catching a Greenish Warbler on the 11th, the 10th caught here in an Autumn. On the 14th we had a record breaking day with the most Nuthatch ever caught in a day in the Autumn here: 2! This also made it the best Autumn for Nuthatch along with one we had caught in September. Before this year there had only been 7 caught here in Autumn. Michael also had one migrating!

After several escapees we finally caught a Sparrowhawk, when Daniel saw me suddenly run out of the ringing lab towards the nets whilst he was ringing, as I had seen one caught. The end of the month resulted in much busier days, mainly due to catching a lot of Robins, including the busiest day of the season with 193 birds caught on the 29th.

On a foggy morning on the 22nd we caught the first Yellow-browed Warbler of the season, going on to catch one later in the month on the 28th and then on the 9th October too. We had the best season for catching Meadow Pipits in 10 years, with 5 caught. Other nice birds included Daniel’s first Wheatear and our first Bramblings where we discovered their yellow underwing.

October

October was our busiest month with ringing and migration, and with many exciting birds. However we also had a lot of windy weather and rain on some days, but that allowed us to have some days off and we visited the local Tirpitz museum and was quite refreshing to do something different. As the days went on the landscape changed as the weather turned grey and the rose bushes yellow. The bulk of our catch now was Robins, Goldcrests as well as many Wrens, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. We also started catching flocks of Blue Tits and Great Tits, which both had a lot of birds moving through this year.

Merit returned for the first week of October, this time to join the ringing, and was a big help with the scribing as we had multiple busy days. It has been nice that people have returned, and there is a lovely community feel here. David also returned regularly each month, and Andreas came back in week 42, after also returning for a weekend in September.

Early in October we caught four Jays after there had been some movement of them about, which were beautiful to see in the hand, especially if their beaks could be avoided. It was the most caught since 2012 with one or zero in the years since.

On the 7th we caught a Willow Tit, the 11th ringed here, a bird becoming increasingly more common in the area. And on the eve of week 42, the 8th, we caught a Radde’s Warbler, a stunning and rare bird which was a real highlight of the season for me.

In Week 42, a holiday week here in Denmark where many birders come to the area during peak migration and find lots of nice birds, the station was busy with guests including Simon the leader from Skagen Fuglestation, who joined us ringing a couple times and it was nice to hear about Skagen and learn from his experience.

Week 42 was a busy week with birds including many nice ones. On the 10th we caught a Ring Ouzel, my first in the hand, I loved the detail on the feathers. On the 11th we caught our only Grasshopper Warbler of the season, a first for Daniel and several others at the station got to see it.

The highlight of the week came amid unexpected rain on the 13th when we caught a Red-Flanked Bluetail! After one was caught last year, and amid news of a good breeding season in Finland this summer, I was hoping we would catch one. Another stunning bird, and many people waited patiently in the rain to see it too.

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The next day we had good movement of Thrushes with 41 caught, a mix of Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbirds. On the 16th we had our crazy Woodcock day where three were caught, they literally kept popping up out of the undergrowth, large and weird with beautiful markings. We also caught our first Firecrest, later in the season than normal making us fear we might not catch any, we would go on to catch several more. We also caught a Treecreeper of the Northern subspecies, paler than the residents, and we caught a Danish control of this subspecies the next day too which we’re waiting to hear about. On the last day of week 42 Xenia came to help, not having to be able to get out yet to ring this season. We had a good day, the highlight being a Great Grey Shrike!

After ringing during week 42 Daniel and I would head out to catch up with rarities birders had seen in the area, catching up with Little Bunting, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler and Siberian Stonechat!

On the 19th we started our involvement with the ICARUS global Thrush project organised by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, which would see us putting satellite tags in Blackbirds as part of a project exploring their migration patterns globally. Kasper Thorup and Jesper Johannes Madsen who lead the ringing scheme came to Blavand to train Daniel and I, and Simon and his volunteer Amelie from Skagen, in tagging the Blackbirds, and we successfully caught and tagged twelve Blackbirds that day! After that we managed to tag an additional thirteen birds over the next couple weeks. It was nice to have a target bird to focus on, especially on some slower days, as even if we caught one Blackbird the day felt productive. We would reopen the nets for the last two hours of the day to try and catch more Blackbirds, as they got more active again then heading to roost. Sadly at the end of the month we got the news to stop tagging as there was a technical problem with the satellite receiver system, which hasn’t been resolved yet but hopefully will be soon. This project was a wide scale trial of the ICARUS system, so not surprising there has been bumps along the way, if disappointing. We have yet to get any data back about where our Blackbirds have got to, but once we know we will share it.

The end of the month saw more windy days but still some nice birds. We recaught a Wren with an old ring, which was first ringed here in 2016! After emailing the ringing centre we discovered it’s the second oldest known Wren in Denmark by 5 months. Hopefully it will be recaught next Autumn and can break the record! Most likely a result of milder winters.

We caught a young female Hawfinch which was really interesting, as I wasn’t aware of the different shaped primary feathers it had, and was cool to see it’s formidable beak. A token Fieldfare for the season was nice, as well as a Male Bullfinch of the Northern subspecies, which was noticeably bigger in the hand and brighter red, a real gem.

November (To the 15th)

Daniel left us on the first day, followed by 4 days of very windy weather which meant no ringing. Afterwards most of the leaves had left the trees, and the net lanes felt much more open, all trace of summer now gone.

I had expected November to be quiet with bird numbers slowing down and not many people at the station. I was proved wrong however as we had some of our busiest days in November, helped by an influx of Blue Tits which were missing last year, and many Blackbirds which unfortunately we couldn’t tag. We also caught some special birds including a male and female Red Crossbill and a Black Redstart, which were new for us all, as well as a second Hawfinch and Sparrowhawk.

The station was brimming with life with 9 volunteers: Rose, Michael and myself, and regular returnee David as well as Oliver and Emilia from August, here to learn to ring. Anders joined us for the first time rather than his regular visits to Skagen Fuglestation, as he was unable to get there due to corona restrictions. Emma and Joshua arrived having spend the Autumn at Gedser Fuglestation, and will be here until mid-December. With so many young people there was a great atmosphere of fun, learning and hygge, and we shared our experiences and knowledge from the different DOF Fuglestations.

I had a really fantastic season at Blåvand, full of wonderful birds with surprise after surprise in the nets. It’s a really special place also due to all the people who visit and help create a lovely community all united with a common passion in birds. I feel very lucky to have been able to come to Blåvand and have such a great experience in what has been a crazy year.