30 June 2010

One for sorrow, Two for Joy... actually one for Joy!

Living in Thetford, Norfolk I have access to some fantastic ringing sites on the BTO reserve and in Thetford Forest but when there is not much time, I ring for the odd hour in my garden.

On the 11th November 2009 I put a mist net up in my garden to ring the odd Blackbird and Blue Tit but what I didn't expect was to catch a Magpie which became ET11453. The only one I have ever caught.

Out of the 1393 recoveries we have for Magpie in Britain and Ireland the average distance flown for a Magpie is 5km (1118 have moved 5km or less). So I had a shock when this bird was found in Hollesley, Suffolk, unfortunately in a Larsen trap, a distance of 63km! Making it into 14th place for the furthest travelled.

Why it went such a long way from Thetford is anyone's guess, but thanks to ringing we know that ET11453 did make that unusual movement.

Thanks to Mike Toms for the photo

29 June 2010

Puffin RAS retraps some old timers

The BTO's only Puffin Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project has proved that a number of long-lived Puffins are thriving on the Shiant Islands in the Outer Hebrides. The RAS is operated on a steep north-facing slope which is home to thousands of pairs of Puffins on Garbh Eilean in the Shiants. The birds are mistnetted on fixed net rides, each 120 feet long, with each ride being operated for 2 hours after which the team moves on up the slope. Fortunately the same area was worked intensively in the early 1970s, so giving us the opportunity to catch these long-lived birds.

The Shiants Auk Ringing Group, currently on its annual two-week expedition, retrapped two Puffins ringed in 1974 on its first session on 21 June: EB38387 had been ringed as a pullus on 8 July 1974, and EB38480 as a breeding adult on the following day. This makes EB38480 at least 38 years old, and EB38387 (pictured below with Jim Lennon) potentially a longevity record for the species! A further veteran, EB73480, caught on 27 June was ringed as a breeding adult in July 1975. Despite 36 years on land and sea, the rings are still easily legible.

Posted on behalf of Dorian Moss who took these fabulous photos.

25 June 2010

Swallow marathon and recorder movements

Ringing never ceases to surprise you. In a recent batch of recoveries reported via www.ring.ac two reports caught my eye:

A Swallow, ring number P768667, ringed as a juvenile in August 2002 at Icklesham, Sussex, was found on 23 April 2010 ( 7 years 4 months later) in Pulborough, Sussex freshly dead under a nest in the barn where it has probably been nesting every year since it first took to the wing back in 2002.

As we know Swallows from UK winter in South Africa so this bird has flown around 64,000km in its lifetime, pretty impressive!

A young American from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, USA, took a backpacking trip recently which included stopping in Dublin, Eire. Whilst walking in the Park in Dublin City she happened to spot a Robin and managed to read part of the metal ring and record the colour rings on its other leg, she also took some photos. We managed to trace the bird, ring V091085, and it was ringed as a juvenile in November 2006 in Dublin City. So whilst this bird has lead a fairly sedentary life so far, the finder has certainly travelled some distance to record one of the BTO's ringed birds!!

Posted on behalf of Bridget Griffin, Ringing Data Manager and photo by Edmund Fellowes

23 June 2010

French Monties reaches Scotland

We recently blogged news of a French-ringed Montagu's Harrier seen in East Anglia (the first post is here). The story has developed somewhat since then, with sightings in Cambridgeshire and also possibly in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

The most bizarre, though, was the record yesterday (22nd June) from Collieston, Aberdeenshire, in eastern Scotland! The bird was only seen briefly, but long enough to have its wing tags read. Some non-breeding birds will wander around prospecting nest sites, but at two years old you wonder when this bird will settle, and where!

The map below shows this bird's movements to date...

View French-ringed Montagu's Harrier in a larger map

18 June 2010

Filling in nest records cards keeps the weasel away

A study recently published in Journal of Avian Biology reveals that mammalian predators avoided Blackbird (Turdus merula) nest sites that were visited by investigators. As a result, nest predation by mammals was lower in those areas that were visited more often by the resarchers.
It is not the first time that a study has shown that Blackbird nesting success can benefit from human activity. Osborne and Osborne in 1980 showed that Blackbirds nesting closer to paths and buildings were more succesful in rearing young than others.
These ‘beneficial’ effects could be explained by the mammalian avoidance of recent human odours - however, as the study suggests, a broader array of species need to be studied.
In some cases, we all know that these scents can also explain the avoidance of the researcher by other mammals – especially those of the opposite sex! Although, of course, that is part of another research project altogether...
Source: Ibanez Alamo, J. 2010. Investigator activities reduce nest predation in Blackbirds Turdus merula. Avian Biol. 41: 208-212

17 June 2010


As a BTO bird ringer, you never know just when your skills will be called upon. On Tuesday evening, Mike Toms and Dave Leech were on the way back from a ringing session on The BTO's Nunnery Reserve when they spotted a Hedgehog dangling from a cricket practice net. The unfortunate animal had obviously put its head through one of the holes while foraging and, in its efforts to escape, had become ever more tangled.

Much of a ringers' training involves learning how to extract birds quickly and safely from mist nets, so Mike and Dave wasted no time in transferring these skills to a different taxon. While spines are less forgiving on the hands than feathers and warblers don't tend to hamper activities by curling up into a tight ball when touched, a combination of manual dexterity and a pair of scissors provided by Chris Wernham soon saw the hapless hog free and taken into care for observation. Reports that it was 'bowled over' by the concern displayed have yet to be confirmed.

10 June 2010

Torry Rock Pipits Anthus petrosus cannabina take up growing pot plants

Amanda Biggins and other members of Grampian Ringing Group have been colour ringing rock pipit chicks around the rocky headland of Girdleness, Torry, Aberdeen this summer. You would describe Torry as not the most upmarket area of Aberdeen. On visiting a nest at the weekend, where Amanda had seen the bird building a nest the previous weekend, we noticed the vegetation around the site had been flattened, as if people had been sitting/lying there for some time. On closer inspection we were surprised to find a tray of six potted seedlings sitting in the grass within 2 metres of the nest. Trainer Raymond Duncan, having led a sheltered life, thought they were tomato plants and considered taking them home to give to his mother for her greenhouse. However Amanda, being a bit more worldy wise, immediately recognized them to be Cannabis sativa plants!

Despite the obvious disturbance around the site, the rock pipit was sitting on 5 eggs.

We suspect this pair may have resorted to getting stoned to help them ignore the picnic-eating families, dogs and drunks who descend on the area when the weather is nice. Amanda resisted the temptation to take the plants home!

Posted on behalf of Amanda Biggins from the Grampian Ringing Group and photos by Raymond Duncan.

09 June 2010

Chardonneret visits Britain... (a test for all those French speakers)

Back in March we posted a story about birds that showed seasonal movements and this was illustrated by Goldfinch controls.

We have just heard from ringer Ian Rendall who caught several Goldfinches in his garden in Kent recently and one had a French ring! We don't know the details of this bird yet but a quick look on the database shows some interesting results of Goldfinches that were ringed in France and found in the UK.

View Goldfinch movements in a larger map

We have had about 180 birds go from this country to France but only 5 birds come the other way, making this report very interesting. Of these 5 birds two were from the same place at Cap Gris Nez, one being found dead in Hertfordshire and the other caught by a ringer in Lincolnshire. The other 3 birds were all caught by ringers and released alive.

Thanks to Ian Rendall for letting us know.

04 June 2010

Hungarian Black Stork tours Scotland

Having been annoyed by the repeated sightings of a Black Stork all over Scotland, it was a pleasure to finally get some details! Photos of the bird on the Outer Hebrides showed a ring, but the code unfortunately couldn't be read.

By the time it made it to Shetland a few days later it was a bit more obliging though, and Mike Pennington managed to read the combination - 50P9. This was, remarkably, a bird ringed in the nest in Hungary in June 2007. It was seen again in Hungary in September 2008 and then in The Netherlands in March 2009, making a beeline for the UK. OK, so not quite a beeline, as this bird will presumably still have wintered in Africa, edging slowly westwards each spring migration.

View Black Stork 50P9 in a larger map

It has toured Scotland since 10 May, but now it's made it to Shetland there isn't much land left for it to explore. This is our first ever recovery of a Black Stork and nice to have one from such an exotic location!

Thanks to Mike Pennington for the details and pics of this amazing record.

CES with a difference

As you would expect, here at the BTO we take part in our own ringing Constant Effort Site (CES). This is a nationally standardised ringing project where we put the same nets in the same place at the same time of year. This means that the numbers of birds caught are comparable between years and fluctuations in the numbers of adults and young can be monitored.

This morning was session number 4 for the Nunnery Ringing Group and the weather was set to give us some good ringing and we were hoping for a large catch. It turned out that the weather was fabulous but as usual we didn't get great numbers of birds, but we did get some unusual species.

As you might have seen from Springwatch last year, we have Cuckoo on the reserve laying their eggs into Reed Warbler nests, but we have never caught one. This is not surprising, as in 2009 for example only 34 Cuckoo were ringed (13 of which were ringed as chicks) over the whole country. This morning though we caught a female that hatched last year (aged on plumage charateristics)!

Out of the 31 birds we caught this was the highlight but we also caught some great birds including Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Jay and also some recently fledged Dunnock. It is also nice to know that all these birds were caught on a CES session and the results are even more valuable than normal ringing. For more information on CES check out http://www.bto.org/ringing/ringinfo/ces/index.htm

Thanks to all of the ringers that have helped with our CES sessions over the years, Paul Stancliffe for the photo and to Kate Risely for kindly 'volunteering' to ring the Cuckoo.

02 June 2010

A BTO night out with Ray Mears

For staff at the BTO, living and working in Thetford can have its perks. Thetford Forest has quite a few special species just 10 minutes down the road from the BTO headquarters. Crossbill, Firecrest, Hobby, Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Nightjar to name a few.

This can make for great filming opportunities for wildlife documentaries and every now and then staff here are asked to join a film crew to help film some of these birds. Last weekend presented one of these occasions.

The plan was to take the world renowned survival expert, Ray Mears, out into the forest (see photograph below, Ray is 6th from the right) to film and ring Nightjars that have recently arrived back from Africa. Ray, who is currently filming a series for ITV, was hoping to capture a Nightjar and help fit a radio tag onto the bird as part of a study into this species. Katrina Evans is doing a Phd with the University of East Anglia with the aim of tracking Nightjar movements during their stay here in the forest. The data collected is very valuable and information on feeding strategies, nesting progress and other movements will be analysed and used to inform conservation action for Nightjars in the future.

Due to the weather conditions, clear sky, bright moon and freezing temperatures, the Nightjars were more interested in feeding and we were unable to catch any. We did however get great views and footage of a roosting bird on a tree stump when we arrived, and a churring male Nightjar at dusk.

It just goes to show, when dealing with wildlife, nothing can be guaranteed.

Thanks go to John Bowers for the Nightjar photo and the ringing team for a cold but memorable evening.

01 June 2010

How I do like to nest beside the seaside!

Last week, we mentioned how birds are always surprising us in where they choose to nest. This week, we have a few more for you- but this time there is a coastal theme.

A BTO Nest Box Challenger from Muasdale, Argyll reported to me last week, that she has a Common Sandpiper nesting in her front garden flower bed! The nest is around 500 yards from the sea and has four eggs at present. Hopefully the chicks will manage their way back to the shore once they hatch.

Even more bizarre, is a Herring gull which has chosen to make its nest on a vessel moored at Falmouth Docks in Cornwall.

As you can see, the nest is not very substantial and the gull currently has 1 egg (next to left foot) which is lying on the bare steel deck of the ship! If the ship sets sail it will be interesting to find out if the gulls go with it!

Thanks to Maggie Young for the photo of the Common sandpiper nest and Simon Taylor for The Herring Gull photos.