10 October 2017

The Big Biggleswade Starling RAS

Denise Cooper-Kiddle and Derek Gruar write:

The BTO Breeding Bird Survey survey has recorded a 49% decline in Starlings across the UK since 1995. Why numbers have dropped so dramatically is not fully known. Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) projects are helping find out whether adult mortality is a possible cause.

Adult Starling. Photo by John Harding

My back garden in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire gets more than its fair share of Starlings (4,446 ringed here since 2010). Three years ago, the BTO suggested I should start a RAS project. As well as a unique metal ring I also add a colour ring to every adult bird caught between 1 April and 31 August each year. Since then I’ve colour ringed 634 adults. My RAS uses red rings with a white letter/number code starting with a P or a K and are unique to each Starling throughout Europe.

Starling roost. Photo by Laura Kuselska

What makes the Biggleswade RAS exceptional is the volume of data it produces. In June 2015, two months after the start of my first RAS season, I was contacted by a retired couple living a few streets away. They had started seeing Starlings with red rings in their garden and a leaflet they picked up in a local shop (1,000 had been distributed around the area) told them about the project. Brian and Viv took on Starling spotting as almost a ‘day job’ and Brian, an ex data manager, decided to set up and manage a complete project database. Every red-ringed bird is added into the database and every day on which that bird is sighted is recorded. This shows that an ‘amateur’ ringer and some absolute hero volunteers can provide a lot of information about a declining species.

So far the database contains 7,382 confirmed day sightings (ring code seen clearly among the mass of Starlings rushing around feeding). Looking at when individual birds were sighted shows that some birds are only seen during the breeding season and some are seen all year round.

Click to enlarge

Staying around or not, can make a lot of difference regarding the number of days on which a bird is sighted. Take two of the ‘regulars’ that have been seen on over 150 days since they were colour ringed. PIF has been seen on 158 days since being colour ringed on 4 May 2015. PVC has been seen 163 times, but wasn’t colour ringed until 14 June 2016. The difference is that PIF disappears for months at a time outside the RAS season and PVC has been seen on at least two days in every month since being colour ringed.

I did consider colour ringing the juveniles I catch as well, but decided against it as so few return as breeding adults the following year: of the 271 adults I have red ringed in 2017 only 52 had been metal ringed here as juveniles in 2016 (about 5% of the total of 980 juveniles ringed here in 2016). A lot will not have survived their first winter, but hopefully quite a few will simply have dispersed and gone elsewhere. It does look as if some birds return at some point because three Starlings metal ringed here in 2011 or 2012, and never seen or retrapped since 2012, suddenly turned up this year to ‘collect’ their red rings.

Juvenile Starling. Photo by Christine Matthews

Where do Starlings ringed in Biggleswade go? A number of recoveries and controls of birds within a 40 km radius suggests they disperse over a reasonable area. Two recoveries have been very noteworthy - a juvenile ringed here in August 2014 was found dead in Capel-Sylen, Carmarthen in March 2015 and an adult ringed here in November 2016 was found dead just outside Bunschoten-Spakenburg in the Netherlands in August 2017. This was especially interesting for me as I lived in Bunschoten-Spakenburg for 11 years; just one of those quirks of fate when investigating these fascinating birds.



With the 2017 RAS season now finished and the data entered into the database, who knows what the results will show us in the next few years. If you do see a red colour ringed Starling starting with the letters P or K, feel free to contact me on Info@denisecooper-kiddle.com.

29 September 2017

Sligo's slippery slope to ringing

Mícheál Casey writes:

I started getting into ringing from reading the metal rings on gulls, particularly Common and Black-headed Gulls. Back in 2004, I read the ring of a handsome Common Gull, and was thrilled to hear back from Hugh Insley about where and when it was ringed. It was a chick (one of a brood of three) which was ringed on 26 May 1997 at Loch Tarff, near Fort Augustus, Highland, which was 400 km from where I saw it in Sligo Harbour, Ireland.

Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

I have seen this bird at least once every winter since 2004 and have just seen it back for its 20th year this weekend, looking quite fresh for its age.

Portfolio of this Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

I emailed Hugh when I decided to move on from ring-reading to training as a BTO ringer and I remember the reply well. He said it will add a lot to my birding, but it will also take away some of my enjoyment of birding, as my enjoyment of every bird or group of birds seen will be diluted by....."now how could I catch that?". He was partly right, but I have gained so much more than I have lost overall.

Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

This bird has a little way to go yet to break the longevity record of 27 years but hopefully it will keep returning to Sligo Harbour for a few more years to come; Mícheál will be waiting!

If you are able to read the ring of a gull while it's stealing your chips or just loafing around on the beach, please report it to www.ring.ac. You will be sent all the details on the bird and your record will help build a more complete picture of its movements.

13 September 2017

Record breakers of the bird world

Bird ringing has come a long way since it's inception in 1909. It was primarily set up to answer some basic questions, like where do our birds go and how long do they live. Since then, an amazing amount of information has been gathered that answers many more complex questions, like why a certain species population changes each year and where in Britain or Ireland are they declining. More information can be found on the BirdTrends and ringing surveys pages.

https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/surveys/ras

 https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/ringing/surveys/ces

At this time of year, all of the previous year's data have been loaded and checked and the Ringing and Nest Recording Team pull together some of this information to produce the Online Ringing & Nest Recording Report. The report includes annual totals for ringing and nest recording, as well as information on recoveries, but it also covers one basic question... how long can a bird live?

The longevity records for 2016 have now been updated and there are some interesting new records. Relatively new colonists like the Little Egret often feature. As they have only been ringed in any numbers in Britain and Ireland in the last fifteen years, we probably haven't yet established the normal maximum life expectancy; the record currently stands at 10 years and five months.

Little Egret chicks. Photo by Graham Giddens
Last year saw 17 records broken including three owl species; Barn Owl, Little Owl and Tawny Owl with ages reaching 15 years, 13 years and 23 years respectively. Some finches also did well with Twite, Lesser Redpoll reaching six years and Goldfinch reaching 10 years.

Lots of these record breakers were caught by a ringer, as opposed to being found dead or being identified by colour marks. Where ringers monitor the same populations annually, the potential for individuals to be caught again increases. This is exactly what happened with three of the record breakers, Little Ringed Plover, Peregrine and Nuthatch, which broke their own records after being re-encountered in 2016! 

The Puffin longevity record was broken again in 2016, and the oldest-known bird in Britain or Ireland is now a ripe old age of 37 years. The individual that broke the record, seen in the photo below, was ringed and re-encountered by the Shiants Auk Ringing Group, who ring in the Western Isles. The previous record holder was also a bird from the Shiants.

The oldest-known BTO-ringed Puffin, by Liz Scott.

We won't be analysing the 2017 records until next year but we already know that the current longevity record for Jackdaw has been broken. Originally ringed in April 1999 by Declan Manley, and subsequently re-caught in 2005, 2007, 2012 and now in 2017. A Goldfinch ringed in Nottinghamshire and found dead in Devon has also broken the 2016 longevity, adding another couple of months on to the current record.

Longevity records are the maximum a species has been recorded to live but most birds do not manage to reach this age. The average life expectancy and lots of other interesting facts can be found on our BirdFacts page.

04 September 2017

White bred Sandwich Tern

Ewan Weston from the Grampian Ringing Group writes:

On 19 June, Grampian Ringing Group carried out some colour ringing at the Sandwich Tern colony in the Sands of Forvie NNR, Aberdeenshire. The group has a long running study on the species to gather information on survival, recruitment and movements. While rounding up some of the young for ringing, one eagle eyed trainee spotted a pure white chick amongst the regular coloured chicks. This bird was colour ringed, although we were not hugely hopeful of the prospects for a white bird as it would be more noticeable to predators. The photos of the chick were sent to an expert who suggested the bird was probably not an albino, but has the recessive Ino mutation, which results in very poor oxidation of melanin.

White Sandwich Tern and birds in regular plumage. Photo by John Tymon.

Since ringing, we have had several sightings, initially as this distinctive bird migrated down the east coast of Scotland and then over on the west coast of England at Ainsdale beach in Merseyside where it has spent a few weeks. Several people have sent us photographs of it and it has turned into a truly magnificent tern.

Flying alongside a 'normal' Sandwich Tern. Photo by John Tymon.

From this colour ringing project, over the last few years we have found that once birds leave their breeding sites they spend several months on the UK coast (often north of their breeding sites) before heading south to winter predominantly in Africa. Very few Sandwich Terns return to Europe in their second summer, with most only migrating back to Europe in their third or fourth summer. It will be quite a long wait to see if this bird returns to Scotland in a few years time to breed, but if it does I am sure it will be seen.

As this project highlights, sightings of colour marked birds have helped increase our knowledge of the movements and behaviours of many species, not just Sandwich Terns. So, if you see a colour marked bird (or find a bird fitted with just a metal ring), please report it at www.ring.ac.

16 August 2017

See you at Rutland Birdfair

It's that time of year again, when birders from all over the world gather at their 'Glasonbury' - The Birdfair.

Over the years, the Birdfair has raised mind boggling sums of money for bird conservation all over the world. Many wildlife charities attend to help with this cause and promote their charity at the same time. The BTO has attended the Birdfair for many years and this year is no exception, so when you are there, pop over to marquee three (stand 36-38) and say 'Hi'. It would be great to meet our many thousands of volunteers and members and we can let you know what has been going on at BTO HQ recently.

For the Ringing and Nest Recording Team, the pinnacle of the Birdfair has to be the ringing demonstration, run in partnership with the Rutland Water Ringing Group. We're in the same place as previous years, which is next to marquee four and the red car park. Over the years we've had some fantastic birds including Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, Turtle Dove and Nightingale, but it's not all about the rarely caught birds. All the data collected during Birdfair will go into the BTO national ringing database and supplement all the fantastic work done by the Rutland Water Ringing Group.

Ringing demo in action. Photo by Sam Franks

Our main species caught are Reed and Sedge Warblers, some of which have been ringed in previous years, and now have clocked up quite a few miles during their life by going to Africa and back. Once we have processed all the birds, our attention switches to ringing people. If you are 'ringed' with one of our wrist bands, pop over to the BTO stand (marquee three) to find out what happened to you.

Releasing a Dunnock. Photo by Peter Carr (@wildlifePete)
There is a lot to do at Birdfair, but make sure you visit us at the ringing demo and the main BTO stand, as it would be great to see you (we may have a small slice of cake for you too).

02 August 2017

Chick couldn't wait to get to Britain

Gull spotter Andy Deighton writes:

Norfolk Bridge, on the river Don in Sheffield, has been a good place to get close views of loafing gulls over the summer. The birds feed at the nearby Viridor glass recycling plant and loaf, bathe and preen on the river weir and adjacent factory roofs.

Decent numbers of immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls spend late summer here, with smaller numbers of Herring Gulls, the odd Greater Black-backed, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull.

From mid-June, numbers of adult, post-breeding Black-headed Gulls started to build up on the river Don, with the first juvenile noted on 30 June and three to four juveniles present over the next few days.


Juvenile Black-headed Gull. Photo by Andy Deighton


The nearest known large Black-headed Gull colony is at Old Moor, about 14 km away, so any juveniles in Sheffield might not be expected to have travelled far from the breeding colony.

Checking the birds on 7 July, a colour marked Black-headed Gull was of interest, wearing colour ring white T25T. After reporting this via the BTO Euring website, it was a surprise to find this bird had been ringed as a chick in Poland, on 6 June, and was still present at that location on 28 June. It was then with us just nine days later having travelled a massive 1,070 km journey within approximately six weeks of hatching.

The bird wasn’t seen subsequently so was presumably still on the move.

24 July 2017

From the land of ice and Blackcaps

For Hugh Insley, ringing at this time of year means, amongst many other things, trying to catch Siskins in his garden in Drummond, Inverness for his Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project and so far this year he has caught 3,000. Inevitably, he also catches a few other birds which are not part of his RAS project.

On 11 July, he extracted a Blackcap from the net that was already wearing a ring. This wasn't one of the c. 50,000 that are ringed in Britain or Ireland every year though, but the first record of a Blackcap that was ringed in Iceland! Now the BTO has to add a new row to the long list of countries that Blackcaps have come from or have gone to with a connection to our ringing scheme.

Female Blackcap wearing an Icelandic ring. Photo by Hugh Insley.

As we have posted previously, Blackcaps have a very interesting and complex migration, possibly associated with climate change and supplementary feeding, which is currently being studied. Many of our British & Irish breeding birds are known to winter in the south, around Spain and Portugal, whilst those that now winter here are known to come from continental Europe - using a novel northwest migration rather than the typical southwest route to reach Iberia. 

The individual that Hugh caught was ringed on 3 November 2016 as a full grown adult female in the garden of the vicarage at Siglufjordur, N. Iceland (see the blue pin below). It was caught again twice more at the same location (on 20 January and 30 March 2017) before heading south to Inverness.



Blackcaps are a vagrant species in Iceland and only 222 have been ringed there; only five of these have been caught again in the country. Additionally, eight Blackcaps that were ringed abroad (five from Belgium and one each from Denmark, The Netherlands and France) have been caught in Iceland. 
 
So, was this a 'British bird' making a novel northwest instead of southwesterly (mirror-image migration) before returning to breed, or was it part of a wider northward movement now undertaken by central European Blackcaps into northern Europe?  

07 July 2017

Who gives a hoot

Occurring throughout England, Scotland and Wales the Tawny Owl is well known, especially during the winter when their territorial calls can be heard during the night.

The Tawny Owl is amber listed, i.e. a species of medium conservation concern due to recent population declines. Surveying this species can be difficult, but studying them is easier due to their readiness to use nestboxes. Ringing the adults and their chicks, as well as following the progression of the nesting attempt (nest record), provides very useful information to help interpret population changes.
 

Adult Tawny Owl. Photo by Rachael Barber


Adult Tawny Owl with a more grey plumage. Photo by Lee Barber

The number of Tawny Owls ringed each year varies considerably; in the last five years the number ringed has ranged from 920 to 2,748 birds. The number ringed also varies by county, with ringers in Northumberland topping the list with an average of 183 birds per year. This is followed by Lincolnshire (107), North Yorkshire (100), Nottinghamshire (92), Norfolk (81) and Cumbria (81). Around 80% of the birds ringed each year are chicks. Ringing chicks enables researchers to follow an individual throughout its lifetime, providing vital information on where birds move to and exactly how long they live.

Tawny Owl chicks. Photo by Lee Barber

For most of the recoveries the BTO receive, the cause of death is unknown, but for some the cause of death is clear. Being hit by a vehicle is the most reported cause of death for Tawny Owls, followed by train casualty and drowning in artificial water containers like horse or cattle troughs. This doesn’t mean that 66% of all Tawny Owls die from vehicle strikes, however. Birds killed by vehicles are inevitably more visible than a bird that dies of natural causes in the middle of a wood. Also, as most of the birds that are reported are from areas with high concentrations of people, these are more likely to be reported when found.


By recapturing ringed birds, licenced bird ringers are in the privileged position to be able to gather information on the presence and condition of Tawny Owls that are alive and well. Last year one of our ringers re-caught a Tawny Owl that was originally ringed as long ago as 2003. This bird was ringed as a chick and re-caught in the same place (Kielder Forest, Northumberland), so the exact age of this bird is known (13 years). A bird ringed in 2004 at Rowlands Gill in Tyne and Wear which was also caught during 2016, that was an adult (at least 1 year old) so she could have been much older. It would have been doing very well to break the longevity record of 21 years 10 months.

Unlike some other owl species, Tawny Owls doesn’t generally travel very far or cross large bodies of water, so their distribution is restricted to mainland Britain.  Due to this behaviour we have had no foreign recoveries in the history of the BTO Ringing Scheme.

Tawny Owl chick about to be ringed. Photo by Lee Barber

I have received one recovery while working at the BTO, of a ring found in Iceland (without a bird) which was originally put on a Tawny Owl chick. This was an amazing record so (as with all our recoveries) some investigation followed. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite as amazing as we’d hoped as we had a previous record that this bird had already died. The ‘used’ ring was put on a binocular strap for safe keeping after reporting. Some years later the finder was on holiday in Iceland when the strap broke and the ring was lost, only to be found later by someone else who reported it to the BTO via www.ring.ac.

The vast majority of data from ringing and the resulting finding of dead birds can provide an amazing amount of information, so if you do find a ringed bird please report it via www.ring.ac.  As a thank you, you will receive the information on where and when the bird was ringed.

15 June 2017

Nest Recording Taster Day, Glamorgan

‘Fledgemore’ is a new nest recording group in Glamorgan. Established in 2015, its members (Andy Bevan, Trevor Fletcher, Dan Jenkins-Jones, Wayne Morris and Graham Williams) have only been nest recording for a few years but, as well as finding and monitoring their own nests, one of their ambitions is to increase the number of local recorders contributing to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme (NRS). They’ve written this blog about one of the ways they’re doing that.

Nest recorders will tell you that finding and then monitoring nests for the NRS is one of the most challenging, exciting and fulfilling experiences in birding. There’s something new to learn every year, there’s the thrill of finding a new nest and there’s the satisfaction in knowing that you’re gathering vital data for the BTO’s Ringing and Nest Recording Team that will inform birds’ long-term conservation.

There has been a welcome increase in the number of nest records submitted from across Britain & Ireland in recent years. An increase that has been reflected in the totals from our home county of Glamorgan. Up until 2006, barely 100 records a year were being sent from here to the BTO. In 2015, that figure had risen to almost 800. But, when we scratched beneath the surface, we found that there were no more than eight or nine birders regularly contributing nest records from Glamorgan. We’re sure other regions have a similar situation.

Blackbird chicks close to fledging at Rudry (Photo: Dan Jenkins-Jones)

If you’re new to nest recording you can learn a lot about how to find and safely monitor the nests of various species from books and online articles, but nothing beats a first-hand experience in the field with other nest recorders. This is how we learnt to find our first nests and it gave us the leg up we needed. With this mind, we trialled a ‘Nest Record Scheme Taster Day’ at Rudry Common, north of Cardiff, in 2016 in an attempt to increase the number of local recorders and put the Scheme on a more sustainable footing in the county. Despite having no more than five seasons’ nest recording experience ourselves, we felt we had sufficient knowledge to be able to share the basic skills with newcomers and to hopefully enthuse and encourage them to take up nest recording. Five birders took part in that event, two of whom are now members of Fledgemore with 130+ nest records gathered between them so far in 2017! Encouraged by our experiences of this ‘Taster Day’, we held another at Rudry on 14 May this year.

Taster Day 2 started with a short indoor session where we presented the participants with their free hazel ‘tapping stick’ and ‘mirror on a stick’, kindly donated by the Rudry Common Trust and both essential tools of the nest recorder’s trade, which they learnt to use during the day. We introduced them to the NRS Code of Conduct, to some basic nest finding techniques and then we were soon out in the field for six hours of ‘nesting’.

Using a mirror on a stick to examine nests (Photo: Graham Williams)

Seeing a bird’s nest which contains eggs or chicks can be that spark which ignites an individual’s fascination with nest recording – especially if it’s a nest you’ve found yourself. To ensure we’d be able to provide that experience, Trevor recced the area in advance of the event and found a nice variety of nests to show everybody.

We spent the morning working through woodland, finding a number of nests: a Blackbird nest with chicks close to fledging; an active Goldcrest nest and, later, a predated one; Great Spotted Woodpecker with chicks; Song Thrush and a Wren on eggs; a Woodpigeon nest which had sadly failed at the chicks stage; a Blue Tit in a nestbox and Coal Tit and Great Tit with chicks nesting in natural cavities, both of whom enabled Trevor to show off his skills with an endoscope. A number of old nests were found too, which are useful in showing participants the likely places to look for nests in future.

Two of the participants trying out the art of ‘tapping’ for the first time (Photo: Andy Bevan)

Late morning, we left the woodland and moved out onto to Rudry Common in search of a suite of different species. A Linnet nest in gorse, which contained chicks a few days before the Taster Day, was sadly empty, probably lost to predation. Nevertheless, it enabled the participants to get a feel for where to find their own Linnet nests in future. A beautiful Long-tailed Tit nest with chicks, also in gorse, was up next, followed by a well concealed Meadow Pipit with four eggs.

The highlight of the day for most was probably a Willow Warbler nest with eggs, described by one participant as a ‘nest on its side’. It’s such a simple, yet beautiful, construction and superbly camouflaged. Finding one is always a thrill, and yet, with the right fieldcraft and knowing how the female’s off-nest call will help you, finding a Willow Warbler nest can be quite easy.

Willow Warbler nest on Rudry Common (Photo Dan Jenkins-Jones)

Best of all, some of these nests were found by the participants, either by ‘watching birds back’ to their nests or, on one occasion, a Blackbird on four eggs was found by gently ‘tapping’ suitable habitat with a hazel stick which gently flushed the sitting bird. Finding these nests and recording their contents generated a lot of excitement amongst us all. For the participants, it proved very quickly that they could find their own nests, and for us as leaders it was great to be able to show that the tips we’d shared with everybody actually work!

The day was rounded off with another short indoor session where we shared information on how to plan nest visits and what information to gather at the nest: egg or chick counts; nest location and habitat; chicks’ feather structure; the nest’s ‘outcome’ etc.  Finally we ‘crowned’ Tara, one of the participants who found three nests as the ‘New Nest Finder of the Day’. Tara went on to justify her crown by returning to Rudry Common immediately after the event to try and find a Garden Warbler for her Year List, and found another Willow Warbler nest on her own!

Tara was crowned ‘Nest Finder of the Day (Photo: Rob Williams)

An enjoyable day all round and we’ve heard from some of the participants that they’ve already been finding their own nests. Fingers crossed that some, if not all of them turn out to be fully-fledged nest recorders in years to come. And of course, we found some new nests on the day to add to our own monitoring for the Scheme. The BTO is keen to encourage ringers to contribute data to the Nest Record Scheme and, where possible, we are revisiting nests to ring pulli to further contribute data to the Ringing and Nest Recording Team. 

We’d highly recommend other nest recorders hosting similar events in their own regions to build up the numbers of local recorders. You definitely don’t need years of experience behind you, you’ll introduce others to a fascinating aspect of birding, help the Nest Record Scheme get even more records and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

30 May 2017

Drift migration in action

Following a brisk overnight easterly wind, hopes were high on the morning of 12th May for a few drift migrants arriving at Isle of May Bird Observatory in the Firth of Forth. The highlight was a stunning male Red-breasted Flycatcher found on the beach at Pilgrims Haven, soon drawing a fair crowd (by island standards). It was quickly noticed that the bird was ringed, and knowing it hadn't been ringed on the island, attempts were made to read the ring from photographs. The ring inscription looked foreign, but unfortunately the ring number itself couldn't be read.


So the bird was left to feed for a couple of hours, before ringers returned with a single-shelf net and just minutes later the bird was caught, revealing the ring was from the Swedish Ringing Scheme. After processing, the bird was released in the same spot and was still present the next day.

Being such an unusual record (we've only ever seen one previous foreign-ringed Red-breasted Flycatcher in the UK - details here), a quick flurry of emails back and forth across the North Sea soon revealed the details. TV0721 was ringed just a week earlier (5th May) at Torhamn in southern Sweden. It had presumably been caught up in an area of high pressure over northern Europe, creating an easterly airflow across the region. The synoptic chart (below) for 11th May also shows the ringing and finding locations, some 1,175km apart!


When ringed, the bird weighed 10.0g and a week later 9.7g, so rather than being thought of as a lost vagrant, it should perhaps be considered a drift migrant, carried on the wind on its migration north. Red-breasted Flycatcher breeds from eastern Europe across to the Himalayas, wintering in southern Asia, although it was long been suggested that there may also be a wintering population in west Africa.

Previous recoveries in the UK have all been in autumn, although one record did see a bird ringed on Shetland recaught in southwest Norway two weeks later!

##UPDATE##
Many thanks to Anders Loell who got in touch with some background (and a photo) on the ringing of this bird: "I had the pleasure of finding it in a net here at Torhamn. And as you suspected there were some heavy eastern winds. There were only two nets possible to use on the 5th and the only reason why they were active was due to some schoolkids coming out here to visit the observatory."


10 May 2017

Reading the small print

Within the ringing team, it never ceases to amaze us just how many people spend their time reading bird rings. Only a small percentage of ringed birds are colour ringed as well, so most birds can only be identified by reading the metal ring number, which can be difficult with wild birds. Rings on large birds such as swans and geese can be quite easy to read, due to the ring size and the proximity of the birds in parks and lakes.

Mute Swan account for 44% of all the metal ring reads (sample from 1 Jan 2017 to today), followed by Black-headed Gull with 19% and Shelduck with 5%. The remaining reports are between 57 different species ranging from sea birds like Puffin and Cormorant to passerines like Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Grasshopper Warbler.


Last week we had a report of a Green-winged Teal (below) at Storavan, Stöcke, Västerbotten, Sweden wearing a BTO ring! Luckily for Johan Forssell and Mikael Wikstrom, very few Green-winged Teal are ringed by our ringing scheme (see ringing totals by species), so finding a match with the given numbers was relatively easy. This bird was ringed as an adult male on 6 Oct 2015 at Caelaverock, Dumfries and Galloway (1,651 km). For more information on the recoveries of Green-winged Teal see our Online ringing reports (don't expect to be overwhelmed by numbers).

BTO ringed Green-winged Teal (foreground). Photo by Johan Forssell




Bardsey Bird Observatory was lucky enough to ring a Pallas's Warbler on 18 April 2017, making this the first spring record for Wales. In fact, this is probably only the third spring record of Pallas's Warbler in the history of our ringing scheme. This bird soon moved away, however a ringed Pallas's Warbler was seen on the island on 7 May.

Pallas's Warbler. Photo by Steve Stansfield in May

Being a very popular bird, this bird was photographed in enough clarity that five of the six digits could be read. This size of ring also fits on Goldcrest and Wren, so is very small indeed. There was only one issue... the ring number didn't match the one that was put on the Pallas's Warbler in April. This was a different bird!

Pallas's Warbler. Photo by Steve Stansfield in May


With the help of the BTO's national ringing scheme database, the origin of this bird was traced. It was originally ringed at Spurn Bird Observatory on 11 Oct 2016! Re-catching a ringed Pallas's Warbler at a different site is incredibly rare, so the details of where this species goes after it reaches our shores is now a little clearer, but there is still a long way to go to fully understand their migration.

Learning to become a ringer takes quite a lot of commitment and time. As these and other previous examples highlight, you don't need to be a ringer to make a real difference to our knowledge of bird demography.

28 April 2017

Bus pass boys at the beach

Allan Hale writes:

The “Bus Pass Boys” are a group of birding pensioners, two of whom are ringers. We make regular visits to Great Yarmouth beach in Norfolk to read colour rings on Mediterranean Gulls, some of us since 1999 (when we didn’t possess bus passes!). Our first birds are on site from about mid-July and most are gone by mid-March.

Mediterranean Gull at Great Yarmouth. Photo taken by Allan Hale.

We have identified nearly 100 different Mediterranean Gulls that were ringed in 10 different countries. They have originated from Belgium, Germany, France, Poland, Britain & Ireland (only two), The Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary and Serbia. There have been multiple sightings of many of these gulls (click here for a complete ringing scheme overview of recoveries for Med Gull). Many valuable life histories have been identified, with some of the birds mentioned above having also visited Spain, Portugal and The Azores.



Some of our Mediterranean Gulls have been shown to reach a ripe old age. Two of the birds we have seen this winter were originally ringed in 2001, one of them already three years old when ringed.

The BTO were impressed with our efforts and they suggested in 2013 that we should have a “joint venture” to try and cannon net some of these birds and fit them with British colour-rings. Very few Mediterranean Gulls are ringed in Britain so we took this as a challenge! Our aim was to add to the pool of ringed birds at Yarmouth and to further understand where these wintering birds originated. Maybe British breeding birds are there – we just didn’t know.

Stunning summer plumage Mediterranean Gulls. Photo taken by Irina Samusenko.

It wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. It is well known that Mediterranean Gulls are more intelligent than the people trying to catch them (most are also better looking!) At time of writing we have caught and ringed 46 Meds and had 'our' birds seen in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Poland. We have also establish that some British-breeding Mediterranean Gulls winter at Great Yarmouth.

Last week we received notification of a sighting of one of our birds that was truly spectacular. The bird had been ringed at Great Yarmouth on 22 November 2015. It was seen on the beach until the end of February 2016 then disappeared for the summer. It had returned to the beach by the end of November 2016 and remained until at least 18 February 2017. Remarkably it was next seen 15 April 2017 at Trostenetskij Rubbish Dump, near Minsk, in Belarus. ‘Our bird’ was apparently paired with a colour ringed bird ‘red PKU6’ which was ringed in Poland.

'Our bird' (right), enjoying some delights in Belarus. Photo taken by Irina Samusenko

This represents the first British or Irish Mediterranean Gull that has been reported from Belarus and it is the most easterly sighting of any of our Mediterranean Gulls.

To report any ringed or colour ringed birds please go to www.ring.ac.

21 April 2017

Little Owls in Lincolnshire

Anecdotal reports suggest that some species have started breeding early this year. In this post, Bob Sheppard provides an update on the Little Owls he monitors in Lincolnshire:

Little Owls readily take to nest boxes, particularly in old farm buildings. The box design I use is important as it mimics a hole in a tree. My father designed the box back in 1998.

A very big clutch of Little Owl eggs. Taken by Bob Sheppard/Alan Ball.

In the past nineteen years our Little Owls have increased as more boxes have been installed and we now have 80 pairs breeding. We monitor the adults for the Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme as well as submitting records to the Nest Record Scheme. In late April/early May, my colleague Alan Ball (who works with me to monitor all the boxes every year) and I catch all the adult females at the boxes (males are rarely caught in the boxes). The females are very site faithful and so we often retrap the same birds for several consecutive years. We then make a follow up visit to ring the chicks.

Little Owl struggling to sit on all those eggs. Taken by Bob Sheppard/Alan Ball.

This year we have found eggs during the first week of April which is very early indeed for Lincolnshire. Clutches of four are the average but we do find quite a few fives, including three already this season. Six egg clutches are not unknown and we once had a seven! The egg-laying season is unusually staggered this year; in several boxes we have heavy females yet to lay. Recoveries are rare (see online reports) but we meet lots of old friends as we open the boxes.

Ed - For more information on the details of Little Owl biology, see our BirdFacts page. Lincolnshire holds the record for the highest number of nest records of Little Owl (77) in 2016, with Norfolk following quite a way behind (14). For the 2015 results of any species click here.

28 March 2017

Feeling a bit broody

With winter loosening its grip on the British countryside our bird life is starting to look forward to spring! Here at BTO HQ, we are winding up to a busy nesting season and are searching the hedgerows and bushes for nests.

Egyptian Geese - photo by Rachael Barber

So far this year we have found nests of Coot, Egyptian Geese, Mallard, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Collared Dove and Dunnock, with more species being added every day. Each nest will be fully recorded for the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS) with nest finders following the NRS code of conduct.


Mallard nest with nine eggs - photo by Lee Barber


Robin nest - photo by Rachael Barber

Several BTO staff and volunteers record nests around Thetford, Norfolk, but how do we avoid recording the same nest? The answer is that we share a Google Map between us, with colours and shapes used to denote the progress of each nest and a note included of who found the nest. After a day of 'nesting' we update the map with our exciting discoveries and this informs everyone of where the nest is, the species, when it was found and at what stage the nest is at (nest only, nest with eggs, chicks, not active). Each recorder will then follow 'their' nests and submit them to the BTO (usually via the ringing group) at the end of the season/nest completion.


Last years nest locations on a shared Google map

Across the country there are some species that have been nesting for some time already including Grey Heron, Raven, Dipper, Stock Dove, Cormorant and Crossbill. The BTO NRS Forum has come alive with reports of nests, includes a Peregrine laying in Woking, Surrey (webcam link), a Woodpigeon squab about two weeks old in North Cornwall and Moorhen, Mistle Thrush and Ring-necked Parakeet with eggs in London. Dippers have full clutches in the Scottish Borders and some chicks have already been ringed in Wales. A Stock Dove in North Norfolk must have fledged by now as well.

 
Blackbird nest - photo by Lee Barber

Nest recording is vital to our understanding of productivity and every nest counts! It is amazing how much difference one nest record can make. By looking at the NRS submission totals, you can see what nests have been recorded previously (2016 records are still being analysed). In 2015, just 24 Goldcrest, 15 Snipe and nine Grasshopper Warbler were recorded in the whole country. Take that down to the county level and you could make a big difference to the totals, especially if you focus on one particular species. Open nesting birds are particularly under recorded because they are generally harder to find, but with a little practice and patience it can be done. Click here to find out how to take part and develop your nesting skills.

16 March 2017

Ringing, recording and recoveries at Sandwich Bay

Steffan Walton, Assistant Warden at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory writes:

Life at a south-eastern Bird Observatory is full of surprises throughout the year. Late winter cold snaps on the continent can start the year off with a bang as wildfowl and thrushes burst into the recording area, whilst counts of almost 150 Woodcock in a morning have occurred in recent times. The spring sees thousands of northbound finches flying over, thermalling raptors, and Whimbrels passing through en masse, whilst typically scarce overshoots such as Kentish Plover, Temminck’s Stint, and Serin are reasonably regular. In 2016 an epic Lithuanian Blue Tit recovery set new records in the spring (see Demog Blog story), whilst both Long-billed Dowitcher and Common Crane treated the visiting young Next Generation Birders.


This is what a Lithuanian Blue Tit looks like - photo by Becky Johnson

Summers are typified by the (now increasingly rare in the UK) sound of the Turtle Dove, breeding waders, and of course, the Nest Record Scheme. Co-ordinated efforts to monitor, ring, and assess our breeding populations take priority whilst our recently started Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) projects on House Sparrow and Collared Dove are already bearing their first fruits. Bee-eater, Quail, and Honey Buzzard are all possible this time of year but highlights are just as likely to be non-avian being a truly fantastic site for Lepidoptera and Odonata records.

As the summer draws to an end things start to heat up. Autumn is traditionally our busiest time of the year avian-wise. Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory has a long history of ringing unusually large numbers of House Martin, Common Sandpiper, and Lesser Whitethroat during this time, as well as being one of the premier sites in the UK for Pallas’s Warbler. Just under 10,000 birds were eventually ringed in 2016, most of which were caught in autumn. In a typical year 7-8,000 birds may be ringed though a recent high of 11,000 occurred in 2015. Looking back at the most recent autumn, numbers such as 1,350 Blackcaps, 1,200 Chiffchaffs, 585 Robins, and 640 Blackbirds make impressive reading.

Tallies can vary from year to year as weather dictates what arrives and what carries on towards France. Meadow Pipits are usually ringed in excellent numbers, species such as Firecrest, Nightingale, Ring Ouzels, and Redstart frequently show well, as well as being one of the best sites to get to grips with continental Coal Tits. In recent year’s rarities such as Red-flanked Bluetail, Great Grey Shrike, Icterine Warbler, Wryneck, and of course, double-figures of Yellow-browed Warblers have found their way into our mist-nets.


Icterine Warbler - photo by SBBOT

The real highlights though come in the form of some very note-worthy foreign controls including a series of Robin recoveries all arriving in a fantastic three week period in October. One bird from Usquert, Netherlands moved 427 km in 16 days, another 545 km from Helgoland, Germany also in 16 days, but one record stood out from the others, the cream of the crop was an individual that was ringed at Kovda, Kandalakshskiy District, Murmansk Oblast, in RUSSIA! A movement of 2,460 km and believed to be the longest distance and furthest east Robin recovery in BTO history. Further interesting records included a good run of Common Redpolls (one being a Danish ringed bird, a movement of 814 km) as well as another Eastern Lesser Whitethroat (S.c.blythi) confirmed by DNA analysis (below).


Lesser Whitethroat - photo by SBBOT

If you would like to visit or ring, then stop by the Field Centre for more details. The home of Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory offers modern, comfortable, self-catering accommodation, allowing you to be on hand for early morning bird ringing, late night moth trapping, club events or just more time to explore the local area. We offer a self-contained flat, twin, family, and single rooms. All guests have use of shared shower facilities, kitchen, dining room and lounge. What’s more, you just might get a snapshot of all the additional behind the scenes crucial work ongoing at Bird Observatories across the UK. Be it the full digitisation of historic data for Birdtrack, Butterfly Monitoring Scheme Transects, the Kent Moth Group, RSPB Wildlife Explorers and Phoenix clubs, and more.

For more information see our website.

09 March 2017

From across the pond

Britain and Ireland are part of the East Atlantic Flyway, so we regularly get a few high Arctic breeding birds from Greenland or Canada in our country like Greenland Wheatear, Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose or Purple Sandpiper.

The majority of recoveries are of Brent Geese (66%), but 19 species have been recorded either coming from, or going to, North America, Canada or Greenland (the latter is covered by the Denmark Ringing Scheme).

Brent Geese have been excluded from the pie chart to better illustrate the other species involved.

These are not all recent recoveries however. The oldest report is from 18 July 1948 (juvenile Arctic Tern ringed in the Bay of Fundy and found by Lairg, Highlands three months later). Due to a colour ringing project on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, we have received quite a few Turnstone reports (37% of the total). Several species stand out, including Great Shearwater (one caught by a trawler and the other caught on a boat), Peregrine (downed by a falconer's Peregrine) and a Caspian Tern (found dead).

Below are a few examples of more recent recoveries :

Ringed Plover - you may remember that Ringed Plovers from Canada have been featured recently on the Demog Blog, so we have several reports of them.

Ringed Plover. Photo taken by Lee Collins

Green-winged Teal - one turned up on the Hayle estuary, Cornwall on 9 November 2016 and it didn't take long to notice it was ringed! It took the Cornish ringers and birders quite a while to get enough photos of the bird to get the ring number, but finally on 19 January 2017 they had enough to trace it. Amazingly this bird was ringed as an adult in Quebec in August 2015!

Green-winged Teal. Photo taken by Anne Carrington-Cotton

Knot - in February we received a report of a dead Knot at Old Hunstanton, Norfolk. The likely ringer would have been the Wash Wader Ringing Group but the ring was clearly from the American Ringing Scheme. American rings are also used in Canada, which is probably where this bird was ringed. If this is the case, then this would be the 10th Canadian ringed Knot to be found in Britain or Ireland. Several BTO staff travel to Delaware every year for their holiday to ring 'Red Knot' as part of the Delaware Shorebird Project, so there was quite a 'flap of excitement' until it became clear that it was not one of theirs. We, and the finder, are awaiting the ringing details from the scheme.

Recoveries from the States are still very few and far between so each one is unusual in itself. The information from the tagged Ringed Plovers will be very interesting to follow in the coming years.

For more information on the movements of birds look at our Online Ringing and Nest Recording Report on our website.