19 January 2018

Ringing and recoveries roundup

From all in the Ringing and Nest Recording Team, we wish you a Happy New Year!

This is a very busy time of year for us. Ringers all over Britain and Ireland are submitting their 2017 ringing data before their ringing permits can be renewed. The graph below shows when the data were submitted for birds ringed in 2017, and the number of birds in each data load.

Number of ringed birds submitted to BTO. Click to enlarge graph.

The deadline for submitting records isn't until the end of Febuary, but even so, it looks unlikely that we will reach a million birds ringed this year. At the moment Blue Tit is the most-ringed bird with 102,716 ringed, followed by Goldfinch (53,993), Great Tit (53,395), Blackcap (51,806), Chiffchaff (49,801) and then Siskin (33,812).

One of the many male Great Tits ringed. Photo by lee Barber

As the data come in, we also receive the details of BTO-ringed birds which have been reported away from the place of ringing. Here are some interesting recoveries that have turned up so far this year.

A Chiffchaff ringed at Snettisham, Norfolk on 24 September 2016 was recaptured at Gwennap, Cornwall on 6 January 2018 (489 km). A Goldcrest got a bit too close to a cat on 9 January at South Elmsall, Pontefract after being ringed at Heysham Harbour, Lancashire on 19 September 2017 (118 km). An unfortunate Lesser Redpoll was found after falling prey to an unknown predator at Oudon, Nantes, France. It had been ringed near Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees (805 km); strangely, the ringing and finding dates are exactly the same as those of the Goldcrest. On a lighter note, an Oystercatcher was seen at Dawlish Warren, Devon on 4 January; this individual was ringed at Holbeach St Matthew on 31 August 1999 (353 km).

Male Goldcrest. Photo by Lee Barber

Last week we received a report of a ring being 'found in a drawer' in Tennessee, US on 7 January 2018. A BTO ring being found in America is always a special event, but while processing the details, we realised we already had a report of this bird on the system. It actually died in 2005 (4.5 months after ringing). This ring was put on a female Canada Goose at Llangorse Lake, Powys... and was shot at St Johns, Worcester, 77 km away, and reported by someone who lived near Llanelli, Camarthenshire. It is amazing to see how far a ring can travel without the bird.

Thanks to all our ringers and nest recorders for doing such great work; without them this information would be impossible.

21 December 2017

Return of the winter Blackcaps - a geolocator story

How do migratory birds respond to a changing environment? The answer to this question may help us unlock key insights into the mechanisms behind migration, and predict how animals will adjust to future global change. British Blackcaps may provide key insights into birds’ abilities to evolve changes in migration. Blackcaps are now spending the winter in the Britain and Ireland in greater numbers than ever before - a change BTO scientists have linked to garden feeding and warmer temperatures. But what exactly do they gain by wintering here, and where are they coming from?

Blackcap with first geolocator retrieved - photo by Benjamin Van Doren

As previously reported, last year, researchers from the BTO, Oxford University, and Exeter University began teaming up with bird ringers and garden owners across Britain and Ireland to study the Blackcaps that visit our gardens in winter. Last winter, we fitted 36 Blackcaps with geolocators, miniature devices that track movements throughout the year; however, the birds must be recaptured in order to retrieve the device and data, which can be a challenge.

Excitingly, returning Blackcaps carrying geolocators have been seen in gardens around the country since late November. These early successes would not have been possible without the dedicated BTO ringers, Garden BirdWatch participants, and other volunteers who have contributed so much time and effort to the ongoing study.

Blackcap geolocator movements. Blue dot - wintering site.

On 26 November, Glynne Evans recaptured the first returning individual in his Hampshire garden where it was tagged nine months earlier. Preliminary analysis indicates that the bird left Britain at the end of March and spent the summer in France, before returning by early November. But is this pattern the exception, or the rule? And why did this bird decide to come north for the winter when it was already in southern France? We hope to find the answers to these questions and many others - as the project continues.

Garden ideal for Blackcaps - photo by Benjamin Van Doren

Glynne’s GBW garden has turned out to be an exceptional Blackcap site, with a further tagged bird (analysis in progress) being caught in December, as well as two other colour-ringed birds returning from last year, giving a return rate of 25%, so far. We know very little about their behaviour and movements in winter, so any sightings of colour-ringed birds would also help answer these questions. Glynne provides food for Blackcaps starting relatively early on in autumn—could this partially explain their affinity for his garden?

How can you help? 

Do you have Blackcaps visiting your garden in winter? Look out for Blackcaps with colour rings and note the positions of the colours on each leg, or even better, take a photograph. Observers interested in joining the colour-ringing and tracking efforts can contact Benjamin Van Doren at Oxford (benjamin.vandoren@zoo.ox.ac.uk) or Greg Conway at the BTO (greg.conway@bto.org). Gardens with multiple Blackcaps regularly attending bird feeders are particularly valuable. For further information please see Life Cycle, issue 6 Autumn 2017.

This study is a collaboration between Oxford University, BTO, Exeter University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Germany.

28 November 2017

The Barra Sparra

Ian Thompson, Yvonne Benting and Bill Neill write:

We have been colour ringing House Sparrows here in Askernish, South Uist as part of the BTO’s RAS scheme for the past seven years. Because House Sparrows have a reputation as being difficult to catch and retrap, the use of colour rings was a conscious decision on our part. This enabled us to identify the birds individually in the field, but more importantly, it allowed our neighbour to participate in the project by recording the birds that visited his garden.

Female House Sparrow. Photo by Ian Thompson

While the House Sparrow RAS season runs from April – August, we observe and record our birds all year round. Again, the use of colour rings has allowed us an insight into their movements around our islands and this has surprised us as to how far ranging they can be. We now receive regular updates from several observers around the islands, and the birds have been recorded as far north as Balranald, North Uist (46 km) and as far south as South Glendale, South Uist (11 km).

To date, all these movements have been within what is known as “the long islands”, which are all joined by causeways, and none have yet travelled over water. With two birders having recently moved to the Isle of Barra, we began hoping that one of our birds might turn up there.

Recently we had been seeing three unringed birds (two male, one female) amongst our regulars and favourable weather gave us the opportunity to try to trap them. Over a period of two weeks, we trapped and ringed 12 new birds (seven female, five male) and we still had four unringed birds (two male two female).

But, amongst the 12 was a bird we hadn't originally ringed (control)!

After a few enquiries, we found that the bird had been ringed by Mark Oksien earlier this year on 18 September at Garrygall, Barra (see map below). Not only has this bird moved 26 km, this is the first time we have recorded a House Sparrow crossing water to other islands. After such a long wait, this was not the way it was meant to happen. We expected that it would be one of our colour ringed birds turning up in Barra, not the other way round.


As Bruce Taylor, one of the Barra birders commented  “the way Calmac has operated of late, we can rule out ship assistance”.

This House Sparrow has since become known as the “Barra Sparra”.

Note:- None of the 12 Sparrows that were ringed have been seen since.

We had news yesterday (27 Nov 2017) of another sparrow making the reverse trip! A bird I ringed on 7 Nov 2017 (O54) turned up in Bruce Taylor’s garden yesterday (one of the birders on Barra) at Brevig, Barra. It would seem that we have quite a movement of sparrows here in this bout of hard weather.

House Sparrow O54. Photo by Bruce Taylor

Information and regular updates on our project and sightings of our birds can be found on the Outer Hebrides Birds website or by following this link.

13 November 2017

Meds, Reds and Rockits

The BTO ringing recoveries team are in daily contact with other ringing schemes all over Europe and occasionally even America or Africa. European ringing schemes are part of EURING, which is the coordinating organisation for European bird ringing schemes and strives to coordinate and maintain good quality data and research for the benefit of wild birds.

Part of the EURING protocol is for member schemes to use a standard set of codes when referring to birds that have been ringed or recovered. The data can then be more easily shared and understood by other ringing schemes. In the autumn, contact between the ringing schemes increases as migratory birds cross borders and seas; many foreign-ringed birds are found in Britain or Ireland as well as BTO-ringed birds being found abroad.

Looking at recent records (from October until the time of writing), there have been quite a few reports of foreign-ringed birds reaching our shores. Mediterranean Gulls from Poland are becoming a regular occurrence, with eight individuals reported since October. Other recently seen Mediterranean Gull were originally ringed in Belgium, France, Denmark and Hungary.

Ringed, colour ringed and unringed Mediterranean Gulls. Photo taken by Dawn Balmer

A sighting on 2 October of a Norwegian Little Stint on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides was really exciting, so too was a Peregrine from Finland which was seen in Norfolk.

The recovery rate for Redwing is very low, but recently there has been a scattering of interesting recoveries, as the birds start to arrive here en masse with the cold northerly air flow. A Redwing wearing a Finnish ring was caught at Wolverhampton Racecourse in early November. Another Redwing was found freshly dead after hitting a window at Charlestown of Arberlour, Moray on 24 October after being ringed 387 days previously at Akureyri, Nordur, Iceland. The most outstanding report was a Redwing which was caught at Rhostryfan, Gwynedd, Wales wearing a ring from the Czech Republic on 31 October. This bird was ringed on 10 November 2014 at Olomoucky Kraj 1,508 km away!

Redwing with a lot to eat. Photo taken by Tom Wallis

On 6 November, a non-ringer reported that a Greenfinch had hit their window at Hoddesdon, Hertford; unfortunately it didn't survive. This bird was wearing a ring that was put on in The Netherlands and if the species is confirmed, this would be the 10th record of a Greenfinch from there being reported here.

A juvenile Norwegian Rock Pipit was caught at Poole Harbour, Dorest on 3 November. It was ringed (and colour ringed) at Maletangen, More og Romsdal (1,464 km). This is one of seven Rock Pipits to be reported to us since October, all of which were colour ring sightings apart from this recapture and a bird hitting a window in Whitburn, Tyne and Wear. More information on the recoveries can be found on the Online ringing reports page.

The Norwegian Rock Pipit. Photo taken by Shaun Robson
As you can see from this round up, we are receiving lots of reports of birds ringed in more northerly countries, but we will soon also be getting records from our more southerly ringing scheme colleagues of 'our' birds that have been seen or caught whilst moving further south for winter.


26 October 2017

The colourful Little Egret

Little Egret is now a familiar sighting in southern Britain and Ireland, but there are also large increases in Scotland. This time of the year is a great time to see this water bird, as shown by the BirdTrack reporting rate graph below.

BirdTrack reporting rate

Being such an obvious bird, and coupled with their long legs, the Little Egret lends itself very well to being identified by colour rings. The majority of birds are ringed as chicks, providing information on brood size, hatching location and sibling ID for the Nest Record Scheme.

Despite how few foreign recoveries we have for Little Egret, they can move reasonable distances and do so on a regular basis. Colour rings increase the number of sightings of these birds and account for 94% of all of the finding reports that we have in the BTO ringing database for this species.

Colour of location: Ringed in Britain and Ireland, Found Here; Ringed Here, Found in Britain and Ireland

North Notts Ringing Group have been colour ringing Little Egret chicks at Besthorpe Gravel Pits, Nottinghamshire since 2013 and have had some very interesting movements so far. They have not had a single report of a dead bird yet. The map below shows some selected sightings. The ringing site (red pin) and the sighting locations (blue and purple pins) are highlighted.



After being ringed, one chick (blue C3) finished growing, learnt to fly and promptly zipped 122 km North to Filey, North Yorkshire (purple pin on map), in an incredible 85 days after ringing! You can see the dispersal of these birds are generally north but they can go in any direction, as we've posted previously. C3 was seen at Filey for over a week.

Little Egret. Photo taken by Ian Elsom

Preening Little Egret. Photo taken by Ian Elsom

If you do see a colour ringed bird feel free to check out European Colour-ring Birding for a list of colour ringing projects. The ringer will then get back to you with the details and submit the sighting to their ringing scheme.

Last year, Great White Egret was added to the list of birds ringed in Britain or Ireland, see the online reports. These birds were also colour ringed, so if you have any doubt about which species is which, check out the BTO Little Egret and Great White Egret ID video.