Viewing entries tagged
Goldcrest

Research

Steve Williams took this photo.. I’ve clearly been eating too much chocolate this easter haha.

It was great to meet up with Liam Olds, Steve Williams and Mike Kilner over easter. I aimed to show them my Violet Oil Beetle location and we weren’t disappointed with over 40+ individuals found. I’ve since found them a few miles away also on a road side verge. Proof that this valley has to be one of the largest strongholds for this species. We recorded 10 Species of Bee thanks to Liam Olds’ vast knowledge, including a Chocolate Mining Bee which was a first for me. It really is great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable naturalists, there’s so much knowledge to obtain about the natural world, I wish I could soak it all up faster! Everything I know, I’ve learned from other people, or by myself through personal discovery and research. It goes to show that if you’re passionate about something, you learn much faster. This is why most people struggle with their current Jobs as you really need passion to drive you forward. I know I’m currently struggle with Jobs, being out of work since October, but I do believe I’m heading in the right direction, to obtain a Job that will give me a sense of purpose, which is after-all what we all want in life.


Here are a few pics from easter. I’ve spent more time out with the recording gear really so haven’t got too many images but I did have some good moments - My first Wood Warbler of the year, a showy Sedge Warbler and my favourites were actually the bugs, Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle and those cute glaring eyes of the Jumping Spider (evarcha falcata). I did go down to see Blair Jones’ Red-necked Phalarope at Goldcliff which has been proving to be a great birding spot this spring, with Black Kite, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover and all the usual supporting cast. While it does tick a few boxes for me, I’m not sure ticking boxes is really my thing. I’ve never made a year list, local list or life list of any kind, I just want to experience nature and take whatever opportunity nature decides to throw at me.


Firecrest Update

If you haven’t been following, I’m studying mimicking behaviour in Firecrest this year and so far, 3 out of 3 males on territory have been able to produce a goldcrest mimic to varying degrees.
The original bird discovered is still by far the best at mimicking goldcrest which is probably why it stood out to me so well to begin with, but the others have used mimicry in a more subtle way.

Not only was the original Firecrest better at the mimic, but it also used it way more often. This could be because there aren’t any other Firecrests in its territory, so why waste time singing Firecrest? Note in the spectagram that it’s producing 3 notes per peak and with the iconic ‘trill’ at the end. Over-all producing 29 notes including trill.

Firecrest No.1 Mimic


Firecrest No.2 only used the odd mimic within a single song and while it still produced 3 notes per beat, the end ‘trill’ is reduced to only 2 notes, notes of which are more typically expected at the end of the Firecrest song. On average the bird produced 16 notes including the trill at the end. It’s worth saying that the amount of beats doesn’t matter too much as even a real goldcrest song this can vary, however so far the birds who sing less notes and also singing a less perfect rendition of the goldcrest song which is why I’m documenting them.

Firecrest No.2

Firecrest No.3 is by far the most interesting bird, largely because of the circumstances in which it used the mimic, doing so directly after hearing a distant goldcrest singing inside its territory, this can be picked up on during the recording. It only lets out one burst of mimic, which is so simplified it hardly meets the requirements of mimicking but it does have the overall structure. Rather than 3 beats, it has just 2 and this bird neglected the trill at the end entirely. Again, this isn’t going to be a completely controlled study as even goldcrest vary, but it’s interesting to hear these mimics used naturally at a time of year where territories are being established and a birds song is never more imperative than in early spring.

Firecrest No.3

It’s worth noting also that the tempo for each bird also varies;

  1. 154bpm (Sang 12 or more times)

  2. 182bpm (Sang 2 times)

  3. 184bpm (Sang 1 time)

This could be nothing but the bird with the most accurate mimic does sing the phrase the slowest and the bird with the less accurate depiction sings the phrases the fastest. More recordings over the breeding season should reveal whether any of these observations are a coincidence or not but it’s all being documented included frequency of notes.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’d like to know just how accurate these mimics are and I’ll compare all my recordings this year side by side with real Goldcrest songs so that by the end of the study, we’ll hopefully be able to trust our ears again when listening out for Firecrest in the field.

So far I’m noticing that the Goldcrests sound is a little ‘thinner’ with less overall weight to it but that might not be enough to go by, on its own.

Mimicking Birds

By now you’ll realise that I’m quite interested in mimicking birds, having done talks to the Welsh Ornithological Society and studied them during my sound degree in University.  Mimicking species aren’t always easy to find however,  because sometimes they mimic so well, that you assume they are the species they are mimicking and don’t care to look twice. This was evident in my recent discovery, where a friend of mine found a new Firecrest territory, just a mile from one that I found last year. Upon visiting the territory myself, I noticed something a bit odd about the Male Firecrests song.. It didn’t sound like the long-drawn out-monotone notes that I expect to hear in their typical song.. and if that wasn’t enough to raise suspicion, it then let out 3-4 phrases of GOLDCREST song! :O

The bird didn’t appear to show signs of hybridisation, with all the standard Firecrest features intact, so I instantly contact around to see if anybody else had heard or read about mimicking Firecrest before. Nobody had heard of this behaviour and after some research on the web and thru books, I couldn’t find any documentation on this. That was until I contacted Chris Hatch, who said that he would look into it for me. Chris later rang me after finding some information in one of his volumes of the ‘birds of the western palearctic’ which did note that Firecrest was able to produce both Firecrest and Goldcrest vocalisations but this was only on rare occasions. I mean it makes sense, especially in Gwent where the population is so high for Goldcrest. Despite them being able to live alongside each-other, they do still compete for the same food so it is within the best interest of the Firecrest to keep Goldcrests out of its territory. This could be the reason why it’s mimicking, but being such a similar species, who knows. There is a documented case in 1974 where a Male Firecrest was seen tending to a Female Goldcrests nest, from which fledged at-least 5 chicks. Document Link.

There are a couple scenarios that I can think of that would result in this Identity Crisis, especially in species that are so similar, but more research is needed. Luckily I have good friends, and providing everything goes well on NRW’s end, I’ll be able to study this subject bird under license this season. Below is a video showing a distant pic of the subject bird and a recording of the longest bout of Goldcrest song it produced. Hearing the recording alone, I think most people would struggle to pic out any differences. Looking closely at the spectogram, there are some minor differences but I’ll study that in more detail once the license comes thru.

Below is my first recording of the subject mimicking bird, starting off half singing / calling and changing to the goldcrest song at 1:30 seconds.

If you’re unsure of the differences between a Firecrest and Goldcrest song, below is a recording I did 2 years ago of both species singing in the same tree. I’ve noted in the comments where the Firecrest phrases are.

I only managed a couple of distant pics of the subject bird but as you can see in the photo below, the features are pretty concrete. The white supercilium is strong, with a clear black line thru the eye and a bright vibrant green back that appears more vibrant in the sun. The only feature that I have a question mark on is the apparent short legs. I’m not sure if it’s a documented feature difference between the two species, but through my own observations, I’ve always found Firecrest to hold themselves a little higher from the perch, giving the appearance of longer legs. I didn’t see that in this subject, but that could be nothing.

Mimicking Firecrest | March 2019

Mimicking Firecrest | March 2019

Should everything go to plan with NRW, I’ll keep you informed throughout the breeding season.

Forest Farm

So the time has come, my time at Aden Productions working on a Iolo Williams Tv Series for BBC has come to an end. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope I get more work with them in the future. At-least until I get another Job, my time is my own again, and I what better way to spend it than at Forest Farm Nature Reserve. It really is a wonderful sub-urban nature reserve and as a result, the wildlife there is so used to people. Snipe are regularly feeding out in the open, Goldcrest flitting about the hedgerows and to my surprise, a Male Brambling briefly flew in to join a drinking party alongside the stream. Kingfishers were busy, though I didn’t spend much time with those today. The Snipe really did put on a show, I hope to get them at a better hour and perhaps with some more direct light but still my best shots of Snipe thus far. A Sabre Wasp and Common Carder were the only insects spotted on the wing at Goytre Wharf yesterday. I must admit it was a bit of a shock to see most of the conifer plantation cut down, though the Sabre Wasp was making most of the dead wood to lay her eggs in. I was hoping to see a Wood Wasp, as this is the only site I’ve ever seen them, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

Patching

Spent a lot of time close to home this weekend. Even walked around Cwmbran Boating Lake which is especially busy on the weekends which I generally try to avoid. Glad I visited though as I did record a Marsh Tit on arrival and had a great time watching early spring behaviour coming from the waterfowl / Great Spotted Woodpeckers that have already lined up a few nesting holes ready for spring. 

Last night I gave my second ever talk, this time at Gwent Ornithological Society' AGM meeting. Still not a massive fan of talking in front of people but it was received well with some very good questions at the end which proved they were listening lol. On a serious note, my talk was on Mimicry in birds, something that is a difficult topic to talk about considering how much mimicry happens day-to-day. 

Today also saw a small flock of Waxwing at Morrisons Carpark in Cwmbran! Finally starting to get some local sightings. They weren't showing very well though due to the activity there, they seemed a bit shy compared to the urban sightings I've had so far. 

Goldcrest

Finally got out with the camera for an hour today, visited Llandegfedd with the intension of photographing some Redwing / Fieldfare and all I really got in the camera was this obliging Goldcrest. Bird numbers are really low at Llandegfedd... Water level is the lowest I've ever seen with old buildings showing at the waters edge! This has made it near impossible to get close to the water and it has drawn all the waterfowl to the middle which are then being flushed off by the water sports activity which are for some reason still going on. I had the impression that the water sports (sailing) were meant to stay on the south side of the lake but they were not sticking to those boundaries today with one venturing near the Osprey Pole at the north end. Rant over, I hope you like the photo. 

Gold-Firecrest

This year (2016) I've been lucky enough to be a part of a few Firecrest Surveys with Gwent Ornithological Society to establish how many breeding pairs are in Gwent. This location is pretty well protected but despite that, it still remains disclosed. As you can hear in the recording, it starts off with a Goldcrest which was the intended subject for the sound recording. The Goldcrest was then joined by a Firecrest which not only added a new location to the survey map, but actually gave me a great opportunity to directly compare the two-very similar species-side by side.

Firecrests are Schedule 1 birds, and should not be disturbed in any way shape or form, especially during the breeding season. This however was one of those special moments that I couldn't take back even if I wanted to.

Firecrests have a less rhythmic and melodic song, only very slightly change pitch from start to finish (monotone). They have no fancy flick at the end of their song either and can sometimes be hard to pick out simply because they fade in and out seamlessly from silence.

Goldcrests are bold, rhythmic, complex and quite often end with a fancy flick. This flick is not always present but when it is, it's a fast trill, easily missed, but a key feature none-the-less.

 

Cosmeston Lakes

Seen a lot of lovely photographs come out of Cosmeston Lakes in Cardiff lately so arranged a short trip with the other half today and it is a lovely little spot. Another classic example of a public place that is also good for wildlife. I feel they've struck the right balance there with 1 lake for public and the other set back for nature. It's a balance that many other locations (like Llandegfedd) are yet to achieve. Here are some of my favourite pictures. 

Patching

Didn't commit to anything particular today. Just wanted to explore my local patch for whatever I found. I just so happened to find some really promising signs of species that I'm yet to even see although photograph. I won't give away the species just yet but it's all very exciting finding something new locally. Just when you think you've seen it all, my patch has delivered yet again. 

Llandegfedd was so busy today! All levels of the car park were full including the north car park. The water level is almost back to full level now which has brought our special Great Crested Grebes back into their breeding grounds. They haven't really had much chance to breed on Llandegfedd yet this year because of this factor. There simply hasn't been any sights for them to build a nest as the tree line has been set back far from the water line. I'm predicting that will change in the next week or so and we'll start to see typical behaviour from them. 

Smallest Bird in the UK

Many people believe that the smallest bird in the Uk is a Wren, but it's common knowledge in the birding community that the Goldcrest is the smallest bird. There is however another species of similar size in the Uk and that is the rarer Firecrest, which in some cases have been known to be even smaller than the Goldcrest. Truth is though, they are both pretty much the same size and any particular individual bird has the potential of being smaller or bigger than the other. You may not see these birds that often but that doesn't reflect on their distribution as they are very common in the Uk and can be found on a variety of habitats, including your Garden. You just have to keep a keen eye out for them as they are very small and often flitter around in thick coniferous trees.