03 December 2019

Moroccan farewell to a long-distance Peregrine

Ed Drewitt and Luke Sutton write:

For the past 21 years, Ed Drewitt has been studying urban-dwelling Peregrines around the Bristol area, in particular what they eat. His prey studies have revealed that not only do urban Peregrines eat a huge range of species in Britain (over 100) they also hunt at night catching nocturnally migrating birds such as Woodcock, Snipe, Teal, Moorhen and even Corncrake and Spotted Crake. During this period Peregrines have extended their range across southern England and can now be found nesting in most cities and large towns in this region.

Juvenile Peregrines blue RX and RY, RZ. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

Since 2007, Ed alongside Luke Sutton, Hamish Smith, Seb Loram and Jason Fathers have been fitting blue colour rings to Peregrines across the west of the country from Bristol to Devon, ringing over 200 Peregrine chicks. They have received information on 55 of these birds, some of which were dead, others alive and well. Over this time the team have also submitted over 160 nest records for Peregrines, tracking both the highs and lows of their breeding attempts.

Peregrine blue RY being ringed. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

One bird AA, the first the team ringed, is still the breeding male in Bath where he hatched and is now over 12 years old. Most recoveries (47 in total) are what we would expect, with females travelling further than males, and only 7% travelling further than 200 kilometres. It was therefore to the team’s surprise that blue RY, ringed on the 30 May 2019 in Taunton, Somerset, was found dead in early November in Tiznit, Morocco (2,435km over 155 days). He was hit by a vehicle. This is the first British-ringed Peregrine to make it to mainland Africa, beaten only by one that made it slightly further south to the Canary Island of Lanzorote.

Peregrine blue RY taking to the skies. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

While Peregrines from northern Europe, such as Finnish Lapland, sometimes make it to northern Africa, this remarkable recovery illustrates the species' ability to travel long distances, which is does regularly from North America to Central and South America, and northern Russia to the Middle East. However, British-hatched Peregrines generally stay within the Britain or hop modest distances over to Belgium, France or the Netherlands.

04 April 2019

Thermal tech lightens the darkest nights

Ben Dolan writes:

In Spring 2017, we were privileged enough to be invited by the BTO to write an article for Issue 5, Spring 2017, LifeCycle magazine on the use of thermal imaging to monitor and ring birds ‘Thermal Birding’. This followed a successful trial, using it to find and ring lapwing pulli, and then using it whilst dazzling, which was a game changer in this area of ringing for us.

Woodcock found by the use of the thermal imagining device. Photo by Ben Dolan

At the time we were using the Pulsar XQ50S; we now use the Pulsar Helion XQ38F with streaming and recording facility.

Since the article was published we have been contacted by many BTO ringers, ringers from Europe and a couple further afield and have had some great feedback that using the device has reduced disturbance, made time more productive, made it easier to carry out bird counts, that surveying wildlife has never been easier and that people have had some first records for their sites using this method.

The view through the thermal imager, catching a Woodcock. Photo by Ben Dolan

Many ringers now own these thermal units and we have had the pleasure of hosting a number of ringers at our sites, as well as visiting theirs, and sharing knowledge which has been a great experience and has helped build new friendships and useful contacts.

The thermal imager is a fantastic tool for bird ringing, finding nests and monitoring nest boxes but it is also great for general wildlife surveys, whether it is hares, badgers, bats, moths and more.

Hedgehog. Photo by Ben Dolan

We look forward to continuing to share our experiences with others and hope they have as much success with the equipment as we have had, with some equally surprising records.

To keep up to date with what we do please follow us on twitter @ringerswm or for our thermal technique guide, visit our website www.westmidlandsringinggroup.co.uk

05 March 2019

Crappy place to ring

Matt Prior writes:

You wouldn’t normally think of sewage treatment sites as wildlife havens but they are often sought out by bird ringers because they are indeed very attractive to birds. A particular treatment process, percolating filters, are rich with fly larvae, worms and snails that graze on the bacteria that treat the sewage. Sewage works are particularly beneficial to birds in the winter providing an insect food source during cold weather because the filters rarely freeze due to the warmth of the sewage. Accessing such sites is difficult and requires robust risk assessments and method statements and ringers have to take the unusual steps to wear full personal protective equipment including hard hats and high visibility clothing.

Sewage treatment works in the snow. Photo by Lee Barber

Grey Wagtails are present at most sewage works; ringing studies have shown that many breed and are resident. In the winter Grey Wagtail numbers increase, presumably from birds originating in upland areas and we have seen that with a bird ringed as a nestling in the Welsh mountains that was retrapped at Marlborough sewage works in the winter. In March, we ringed a Grey Wagtail at Marlborough sewage works and this bird was retrapped by a ringer in Belgium in June. This is the first example of a BTO ringed Grey Wagtail to be recovered in Belgium. We contacted the Belgian ringer and he recorded it as a male and thinks it was breeding nearby.

Some years ago, a Grey Wagtail was retrapped at Calne sewage works that was originally ringed in Denmark so ringing shows that our wintering Grey Wagtails come from the continent as well as from Britain or Ireland. In addition to mapping movements, bird ringing can provide information about survival and on 4 December 2016 we retrapped a Grey Wagtail that we originally ringed on 23 January 2010 making it 6 years 10 months 19 days old; just short of the BTO longevity record.

Grey Wagtail. Phone by Lee Barber

Sewage works are also very attractive to Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. Meadow Pipits have shown some level of winter site fidelity at Marlborough sewage works with many retrapped in subsequent winters and some returning for up to five years but we haven’t yet learnt where they are breeding.

Pied Wagtail. Photo by Lee Barber

Chiffchaffs are another bird that are now strongly associated with sewage works. Thousands now winter across the UK and sewage works are definitely the most popular site for them. Birdwatchers seek out these sites to look for Chiffchaffs in the hope of finding a browner looking one that is Siberian Chiffchaff. If we retrap one originally ringed on its breeding grounds that really would be exciting. Personally I have not been that lucky but I have retrapped a Chiffchaff that had originally been ringed in Belgium. We will continue to monitor birds on sewage works and who knows what we will learn next.

14 November 2018

Bearded Tit bails out of Scotland

The Bearded Tit is a very handsome bird and their call can excite many a birder when it's heard 'pinging' across the reedbed. As a Schedule 1 species, Bearded Tits are one of 88 species specially protected in the breeding season. Between 800-1,000 Bearded Tits are ringed every year in Britain by qualified bird ringers. Being fairly sedentary they make a good study species, particularly for the Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme (of which there are currently three active projects), but they can be frustrating as groups of Bearded Tits are occasionally prone to flying straight up into the air and disappearing into the distance.

Male Bearded Tit. Photo by Graham Catley

The map below shows some of the movements of Bearded Tits that have been recorded within our Ringing Scheme. As you can see, the majority of movements are from their stronghold in East Anglia to the near continent.

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

We have just heard from our colleagues in the Norwegian Ringing Scheme that one of their ringers has recently (16 Oct 2018) caught a Bearded Tit wearing a BTO ring! This is only the second recorded movement of a BTO-ringed Bearded Tit to Norway.

This bird was ringed as a juvenile by the Tay Ringing Group on 24 June 2018 at one of their regular sites and reported from Norway less than four months later. It is likely this bird would have been travelling in the opposite direction to the thousands of other species that would have been leaving Scandinavia on their way to spend the winter with us.

The map below shows the ringing and finding locations of some of the Bearded Tits ringed by the Tay Ringing Group; the bird reported from Norway was the Group's longest-distance movements to date for this species. The red pins show the ringing location and the blue pins the finding location.

For more information of the movements of Bearded Tits and some interesting recoveries, check out the BTO Online Ringing & Nest Recording Report.

12 October 2018

New Curlew recoveries from Poland

Mike Smart (on behalf of the Curlew Forum) writes:

The current BTO map of Curlew recoveries shows (out of nearly 1,800 recoveries of this species) only two movements between Britain and Ireland and Poland, both rather old, one in either direction, as follows: 

FV42986 - Adult ringed on 09.08.1978 at Camel estuary, Wadebridge, Cornwall, found long dead on 23.07.1979 at Drawski Mlyn, Poland 52.52 N 16.06 E.

EN02280 - First year bird ringed on 25.08.2009 at Borety, Lichnowy, Poland 54.07 N 18.52 E and colour ring read on 26.10.2010 at Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate.

The ringing or finding locations of both these birds were close to the Baltic coast, with the birds in Poland in July or August, which suggests that they were on migration from northern or eatern breeding sites to wintering areas along the Atlantic or Channel seaboards in England.

A new national Polish Curlew project, which aims to encourage breeding populations in nine sites across the country, has shown that movements between Poland and Britain and Ireland are more frequent than the old recoveries suggest. The project involves work in river valleys in nine different areas of eastern Poland, where there is collaboration with farmers to avoid destruction of nests and eggs by agricultural activities, artificial raising of chicks in aviaries (‘head-starting’), marking of young birds with colour rings and inscribed flags and the use of satellite markers to record migration routes taken. Lots of extra information is available on the excellent Polish website at www.ochronakulika.pl; (‘Kulik’ is Polish for Curlew); for the English version, just click on the Union Jack.

Release of a satellite-tagged bird on the breeding grounds in Poland. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

The work in Poland has already borne fruit: at least five of the birds marked with colour rings and satellite tags have been recorded in south-east England this autumn: the latest is a bird with a yellow flag M78, ringed in Poland on 14 July 2018 and sighted at Chichester Harbour on 28 September 2018 (see picture below). Another Polish-ringed and satellite-tagged female called Nina has been a regular visitor to Porchfield Cricket Club’s ground, on the Isle of Wight. The map below shows the route taken by one of the satellite-tagged birds.

Polish-ringed Curlew with flag in Chichester Harbour. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

Route taken by a satellite-tagged bird from Poland to southern England

In fact the Poles are clearly carrying out all the actions to encourage breeding Curlews that have been discussed at a series of recent meetings in the British Isles and Ireland – the first in Ireland in November 2016, the second at Slimbridge in February 2017, the third in Wales in January 2018 and the latest in Scotland only recently, in September 2018. Such meetings are crucial, in view of the Eurasian Curlew’s current status on the UK and International Red Lists, and there is indeed an International Species Survival Action Plan under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which recently held a meeting in Scotland.
For details of all these meetings and much more on breeding Curlews in lowland Britain, see the Curlew Forum website at www.curlewcall.org.

And, as if all this was not enough, another recovery of a British-marked bird has just been reported:
FA95802 - adult ringed on 14.12.2015 at Usk estuary, Newport, Wales and colour ring read on 19.04.2018 at Trzyrzecze, Brzozówka Valley, NE Poland 53.31 N, 23.10 E.

This bird was seen and recognised from its colour rings (Black on the left tibia, White over Orange on the right tibia, plus Orange over White on the left tarsus as a marker for all Usk birds) from 19 to 26 April 2018 (see picture below). Note that this bird was recorded not in autumn near the Baltic coast (like the two previous recoveries), but far inland in northeast Poland, close to the Polish border with Belarus, by observers from the Polish project. It had been ringed by a BTO team studying possible effects of tidal lagoons on the Severn estuary near Newport in winter 2015/16. The first reaction was that this bird was perhaps on its way to breeding areas in Finland, but it now seems much more likely that it was a bird preparing to nest in eastern Poland.

Black White Orange Colour ringed Curlew in Poland in April 2018. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

So, it suddenly appears that, whereas we previously thought there was little exchange of Curlews between Poland and Britain and Ireland, there seem to be much more numerous exchanges between breeding grounds in Poland and wintering grounds in southeast England, with the occasional bird going to winter as far west as Wales; and the two older recoveries mentioned above may well have been of Polish nesting birds, rather than migrants from further north. Many other Polish-breeding birds go further down the Atlantic coast to western France where, as reported at the AEWA meeting, there is still an open season for shooting Curlews: 7,000 Curlews were shot in France last winter. 
Further records of metal- or colour-ringed and satellite-marked Curlews may throw even more light on the situation, so please keep looking out for those engraved leg flags.

And a post-script:

It so happens that another bird from the December 2015/January 2016 catch on the Usk estuary has recently been reported (in May 2018) in Finland; there are very many recoveries, according to the BTO map, of British-ringed Curlews in Finland (an enormous 128), or of Finnish-ringed birds recovered in Britain and Ireland (an even greater 238). Given all those movement of Curlews between Britain and Ireland and breeding sites in Finland (and for that matter Sweden too – there are 86 recoveries in Britain and Ireland of Swedish-ringed Curlews and 40 recoveries in Sweden of British-ringed Curlews), surely some of the Finnish or Swedish birds must get recovered in Poland on their way to the Atlantic coast breeding grounds? A check of the Finnish and Swedish ringing atlases, (data kindly provided by the Finnish and Swedish ringing offices), and……  quite crazy results: there is not a single recovery of a Finnish-ringed Curlew in any of the states of the north-eastern Baltic – neither in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Poland; all, but all, of the many ringed Finnish Curlews (17,000 birds ringed, nearly all as chicks) migrate along the western (Swedish) Baltic coast to Denmark, then move on to winter along the Atlantic seaboard, mainly in the UK and France. The same is true of Swedish-ringed Curlews; no recoveries whatsoever in the eastern Baltic. Extraordinary that there should be such different migration routes for birds wintering in the same area! More research is needed to find out why!

Many thanks to Polish colleagues Dominik Krupiński and Jerzy Lewtak, and to the Finnish Ringing Office.