14 April 2014

Spring encounters of the bird kind

You will be glad to hear that we are now reaching the 'tail end' of the auk wreck that has effected thousands of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills up and down the country (posted previously). We are still however receiving reports from the various ringing schemes involved, showing the great distances these birds can travel during the winter.

Collared Doves have been known to make large movements occasionally and one such bird travelled south from Fair Isle, Shetland all the way to Halkirk, Caithness (238km) to end up being killed by a cat on the 06 April. Reports of interesting movements of Chaffinch include two Norwegian ringed birds, one killed by a cat in Powys and one to be found fresh dead in Wiltshire both found in mid March. At a very similar time a BTO ringed Chaffinch from Lincolnshire met his end in Norway after not seeing a window in time.

Chaffinch - John Harding

Windows were also responsible for 2 BTO ringed Dunnock recoveries of note. One was the 11th record to Norway (again ringed in Lincolnshire - 1721km) and the other was the 2nd ever Dunnock to be found in Denmark (ringed in Suffolk - 744km).

The BTO migration blog and BirdTrack is currently showing a good influx of spring migrants at the moment with species like Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Swallow, and with this comes encounters with ringed migrants. A Sussex ringed Chiffchaff for example (ringed in September 2013) met its end on its return migration when it was found dead in someone's kitchen in Spain (928km).

BirdTrack reporting rate of Chiffchaff

We have also received our first report of a returning Osprey, to the Glaslyn Osprey Centre near Porthmadog, Gwynedd. This bird was identified by a video camera placed near the nest during the winter. It was originally ringed as a chick at Rutland Water in 1998 in a brood of three.

A window was the likely cause of a Lincolnshire ringed Oystercatcher death in Norway (733km) but more positively, several Irish ringed Oystercatchers have been seen in their breeding grounds in Iceland (1519km).

31 March 2014

More on wandering Bearded Tits

Just over a year ago 'Demog Blog' reported on the bizarre occurrence of two ringed Bearded Tits seen in a tiny reedbed in Hyde Park, London (here). This was pretty unusual anyway, both birds having been ringed together at Rye Meads a couple of months previously, but the story now has an extra twist.

The two Bearded Tits in Hyde Park (Chris Hinton)
We have just heard that one of these birds, L511928, has turned up again, this time in southeast Norfolk! It was recaught at Belton Marshes in August 2013, a brackish reedbed site where plenty of Bearded Tits breed. As we noted back in the original post, Rye Meads don't catch many Bearded Tits, and coincidentally the prior to these birds being ringed, the last one caught (in February 2011) was a bird originally ringed at Haddiscoe Island, Norfolk, just a couple of kilometres from Belton Marshes!

The map below shows the locations of Rye Meads (blue) and the two sites L511928 visited (orange).

28 March 2014

Keeping Starlings under surveillance

Graham Martin, Worcestershire writes:

While local bird watchers have been marvelling at some spectacular murmurations of Starlings, my attention has been focused very closely on my local colony of about two dozen resident Starlings.

I have eleven boxes up around the garden and for the last five years, one has been rigged with a standard IR nest box camera. Ten of the boxes are now occupied and breeding has got underway very early this year, with the first egg laid on March 18th, in the camera nest box. According to BTO records, this is the 9th earliest date ever recorded for Starlings. It was 25 days earlier than the first egg that I observed in 2013.

Starling under surveillance - Graham Martin

One very interesting behaviour has been the male singing at full volume repeatedly from within the box. Given his mimicry this has meant that from my box I have had a succession of Buzzards, Chickens and Little Owls.

The first egg appeared and was duly noted on March 18th, but on the second day I switched the camera on at 06:00 and soon after watched as a bird entered the box, poked around a bit and then removed the egg. Fifteen minutes later a bird entered the box and showed more nesting behaviour until at about 10:00 another egg was laid. So the nest record now shows two successive days with one egg but because of what the video revealed, I know that this is in fact the second egg for the nest.

Starling - Terry Levitt

Just what is going is very difficult to say. Last year I also recorded two successive days with just one egg. At that time I assumed that the female had just interrupted laying for one day, but it could well have been that the first egg was also removed last year. Who took the egg? There are many options but it could be another female from one of the nearby nests helping herself to some ready nutrients or it could be a rival male trying to decrease someone else’s paternity.

I hope that this year, because of the early breeding and the mild and damp conditions, these starlings will be able to produce two broods, like last years camera box nest, but whether it was the same adults will remain a mystery.

19 March 2014

Fabulous phalaropes

With so few birds breeding in the UK and even fewer ringed, it's not surprising that we have only had a handful of Red-necked Phalarope recoveries and none of these have been abroad. Very little is known about the life of these tiny birds when they are away from their breeding grounds on Shetland and the Western Isles, but thanks to cutting-edge technology we are getting some extremely interesting insights.

Red-necked Phalarope - Edmund Fellowes

Tiny geolocators, which record the bird's position by a combination of light levels and time, were placed on 10 Red-necked Phalaropes as part of a collaboration between the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Shetland Ringing Group and the RSPB.

Red-necked Phalarope and its geolocator - Adam Rowlands

After successfully recapturing one of the tagged birds a year after ringing, its geolocator was removed and the information downloaded. This revealed an amazing 16,000 mile migration across the Atlantic into the Labrador Sea, then down the east coast of North America to Florida. This bird then crossed Mexico and remained east of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean for the winter. On its return in April it followed a similar but more southerly route back. This is the first time a European bird has been recorded taking this migration route.

Migration route of the tagged Red-necked Phalarope
The data gained from this one bird has revealed a wealth of information, not only of the migration route it took but also the timing of its migration and how long it remained at stop-overs. The project will continue to answer other questions including whether all of our breeding Red-necked Phalaropes take this migration route or do some birds join the Scandanavian population, and whether this route changes depending on the weather and local storms. This technology is improving very quickly so it won't be long before we know a lot more.

Thanks to David Okill for letting us know.

13 March 2014

Marsh Harriers strike out across Europe

Phil Littler and John Middleton (North West Norfolk Ringing Group) write:

On 5th February 2014, the first live British-ringed Marsh Harrier was sighted in Spain by Javier Elorriaga, along with Yeray Seminario, Juan Martin and Ramon Navarro. The wing-tagged male Marsh Harrier (BN - green pin on map below) was ringed as a nestling in North Norfolk on 3rd August 2013 by the North West Norfolk Ringing Group. This bird was seen at La Janda, near Cadiz, an area of flooded rice fields, which has a high concentration of Marsh Harriers in winter. It was then seen again on 8th February by Geoff Gowlett who sent us the photo below. BN was first seen by Alex Colorado on 9th December 2013 approximately four kilometers from the latest observations.

Male Marsh Harrier BN. The sex was determined using the Dutch foot span measurement method, which this Norfolk project have championed in the UK (c) Geoff Gowlett
Prior to this only two British-ringed Marsh Harriers had been recovered in Spain; one ringed in Lincolnshire and the other in Suffolk, both found dead in 1991.

Subsequently, we received a report of a second Marsh Harrier (LB - red pin on map below) from Suffolk that had been wing-tagged in the same project. It was seen by Juan M Perez-Garcia on 13th Januar 2014 at Parc Natural El Hondo, Spain, a site that is both a RAMSAR site and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.


Previously, on Christmas Day 2012, a report came in of a wing tagged bird near Lisbon, Portugal (AP - yellow pin on map above). This represented the first live sighting of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Portugal, and only the second ever recovered there.

AP, a female, was ringed in July 2011 at Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk, and was seen near Aerodromo de Leziria, a small airfield used for aerial crop spraying of the extensive rice fields in the area. We know this female survived its return migration because in April 2013, she was photographed coming in off the North Sea at Spurn, Humberside.


On 11th December 2013 Green DX, ringed in June 2013 near Haddiscoe, was reported from Belgium by Frank van de Velde who photographed it at De Blankaart Nature Reserve, another first for a British-ringed harrier to Belgium.

DX with it's new wing tags - by Alison Allen
Marsh Harrier DX - by Frank Van de Velde
Unconfirmed, but 99% sure, was a distant sighting in Senegal on 24th January 2013 by a French Ornithologist Jean Francois Blanc who was studying Montagu's Harriers. He saw a green wing-tagged Marsh Harrier who thought that the markings were black OO. This was rather disappointing as OO has not been used but CC has; was it that bird? It would have been the first recovery of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Senegal. Jean also observed two Belgian wing-tagged birds.


Not only exciting foreign recoveries were being received, but Marsh Harriers that had been wing tagged in this collaborative project were also being reported from as far as the Loch of Strathbeg near Aberdeen, to the Dale Peninsula in Wales, Burton Mere in Cheshire and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

More details about the Norfolk wing tagging project can be found here.