22 June 2014

Spanish Black-necked Grebe breeding in UK

The age of digital photography has seen a rapid rise in the ability of photographers to capture details on metal rings as well as colour rings. In the 'good old days' the occasional Oystercatcher or gull ring would be read, but now it's commonplace for us to receive ring reads of species such as Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll at bird feeders. But top marks go to Mike McKenzie, who's been putting in a lot of effort recently to photograph breeding Black-necked Grebes at a confidential site in northern England.

Black-necked Grebes breed at fewer than 15 sites in the UK
Much to his (and our!) amazement several of his photos revealed one of the birds was ringed, so he duly got in touch. As unlikely as this might be, we presumed it would be one of the small number of birds ringed in the UK over the last few years, but previewing the first image proved otherwise. The font of the numbers was blatantly not ours, so this must be a foreign bird!

Cropping high-res versions of the images allowed us to just about make out the words AMBIENTE and MADRID on the ring - a Spanish bird! We were then able to piece together the full ring number and thanks to a quick email to the Spanish Scheme, we know that this bird was ringed in October 2012 at Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel in southwest Spain. This wetland area is second only in size to Parque Nacional de Doñana in the region, with significant breeding populations of many waterbirds. The wetland does support resident Black-necked Grebes, but is obviously also winter home to some of our own breeding birds.

Just one more gratuitous photo of one of the breeding birds!
This is our first foreign recovery of Black-necked Grebe, with the only previous recoveries being local colour-ring sightings, and is a significant one in linking together these two distant populations.

Many thanks to Mike for getting in touch and letting us use his excellent photos on the blog. And if anyone wants to go one better than a first, then get your camera out...


  1. The BNG ringing at Odiel is great fun, even if a tad muddy, but I never dreamed of news like this. One in the eye for those who decry modern-day ringing as valueless.

  2. One Spanish BNG was recovered a several days ago in Serbia and also breeding here.

  3. The moulting population at Odiel is intensively studied, see:
    Fox, A.D., Ramo, C., Varo, N., Sánchez, M.I., Amat, J.A., Green, A.J. 2013. Late-moulting Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis show greater body mass in the face of failing food supply. Ibis 155: 814-822.
    Varo, N., Green, A.J., Sánchez, M.I., Ramo, C., Gómez, J. y Amat, J.A. 2011. Behavioural and population responses to changing availability of Artemia prey by moulting black-necked grebes, Podiceps nigricollis. Hydrobiologia 664: 163-171.

  4. This is one of the thousand BNG ringed in Marismas del Odiel by Natural Processes Monitoring Team of Estación Biológica de Doñana-CSIC since 1992. This specie don't breed in the site (it does in Doñana area) but birds moult and winter there. There are a lot of recoveries of these ringed birds all over Europe, Rusia beyond the Urals and North Africa.