23 December 2010

Unexpected Shag High-dive (USH)

Trying to read ring numbers in the field is usually very tricky but advances in photography has improved things substantially. So far this week I've had reports of a Coal Tit, Lesser Redpoll and a Chaffinch that have had their rings read by photographs.

Birds in the water are very difficult to identify as the distortion from the water causes problems. Philip Smith was photographing a Shag in Dover when the camera was used to identify a bird in the water!

A few digits are visible from the above photo but just not good enough to get the full number. A few more shots later produced the unexpected money shot below. Colour ring Blue USH!

This bird can now be identifed as a shag ringed as a chick this year on the Isle of May, Fife, some 620km from Dover!

Thanks to Philip Smith for letting us know and also being able to show these cracking pictures.

On a very differnet note we have heard from Ed Drewitt who has received a report that Kate Atwell, who is a bird keeper at Bristol Zoo, has seen 16 Mallard ducklings in the half frozen pool by the Gorila enclosure on Tuesday!

21 December 2010

Freezing feathered friends

As the cold weather continues we are finding that birds are still having a tough time trying to cope with the temperature. We are currently on day 6 for England and Wales of cold weather and Scotland has a statutory suspension of wildfowling. The current cold weather situation can be found at our new website.

As we reported previously, birds of prey, especially Barn Owls are being found in poor condition or dead due to the lack of food. Last week we had 39 reports of dead Barn Owls, 3 Buzzard (one of which was 24 years old) and Kestrel, ET51185 which is in care at the moment due to "snow and ice" and is 12 years old. With many water bodies now frozen, wildfowl are finding it particularly difficult and recoveries included 4 Mute Swans and a Grey Heron.

We haven't seen a big increase in reports of small passerines yet, but this could be because their bodies are covered in snow. The reporting rate might increase when things defrost but we'll see. Next summers Breeding Bird Survey and CES will be interesting to analyse for sure.

Note that these are reports and cold weather might not be the exact cause of death.
Thanks to Neil Calbrade for the photo of the ringed Snow Bunting in the snow.

17 December 2010

Christmas Eggs

With the freezing weather severely affecting Barn Owl survival, it has been quite a shock to hear from nest recorder Simon Taylor about his latest find.

Simon Taylor writes:
I work in Falmouth Docks as a Health and Safety Officer and decided to take my usual walk around the yard around mid morning. I wanted to test the telephone which is situated behind the wooden doors in a recess. The telephone is there for emergencies and for contact between docking teams and the pump room. At first when I opened the door a feral pigeon sat tight on a nest but after a couple of seconds she flew out revealing two eggs!

15 December 2010

Confused Stone Curlew

The rare Stone Curlew breeds in Southern England in the UK and migrates south into Iberia and north Africa for the winter. The best places to see this cryptic bird are on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and in the Brecklands, Norfolk and Suffolk.

We have just received a report from Linda Jenkinson concerning Stone Curlew EX45756, which was ringed on the 9th June 2010 in Breckland as a chick by the RSPB Ringing Group. Amazingly this bird was found dead at Lindisfarne, Northumberland on 12th December! This bird was definitely going in the wrong direction and this could have been the same bird that was seen on Brownsman Island, Farne Islands, Northumberland on the 1st December. The last Stone Curlew on the Farne Islands was in 1950 so this is a pretty special record.

View Stone Curlew in a larger map

The previous recoveries from outside the UK are mainly from France and Spain but we also have reports from Algeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Switzerland and Morocco. We have had a sighting of a Stone Curlew at Blackdog, Aberdeenshire in May 2002 but this is the first report of a British ringed Stone Curlew in Northumberland!

10 December 2010

Black Week for the White Owls

With the number of freezing days now having reached double figures in England and Scotland (read more on our brand new BTO website), the weather is making all the headlines. Similarly, the Ringing Office has received a number of reports from the public of ringed birds affected by the weather; found in gardens, barns, sheds, fields and city centres. Many birds are succumbing to this first wave of severe cold weather and the ringing recoveries reflect this.
For example, this week, we have received 31 reports of dead Barn Owls. In most cases the cold conditions figure as the cause of death. This was a black week for the Barn Owl, a species which probably found it difficult to find any small mammals due to the snow cover and the freezing temperatures.

Other dead birds reported this week which are also likely to be cold weather victims are a Reed Bunting, two Waxwings, a Chaffinch and a Long-tailed Tit.

It will be interesting to find out how many dead birds walkers find washed-up along the coastline this weekend. We will keep you updated on any interesting recoveries!

Thanks to Neil Calbrade for the photo.

09 December 2010

The Godwit Club

The amazing International Schools Godwit Project links children and birds from Iceland, Ireland and the UK. Children from all three countries are learning about bird migration and ecology and at the same time they are helping scientists in their study of the species. Many Black-tailed Godwits are being colour marked in their breeding grounds -Iceland- so their movements and home ranges can be traced by birdwatchers and scientists!
The Topsham Primary School Godwit Club has been meeting weekly after school to study the amazing migration patterns of the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits. Last week they met up with David Lindo and a BBC filming crew and went searching for wintering coloured marked Godwits, and it seems that they had a lot of fun too!
If you want to know more about this great project don't miss this week's BBC's Countryfile, on Sunday 12th December 2010, or visit the schools' update by clicking here.
Reporting colour ringed birds is very important as it helps in the understanding of their ecology, which can be used in the future for their conservation. So please, next time you spot a colour ringed bird make sure that you make a note and contact us here.

06 December 2010

The first Barnie causes a twitch... update

We have been informed by Scott Kruitbosch from the Connecticut Audubon Society that our Barnacle Goose 1291347 has again been on the move and was spotted at Wooster Park, Stratford, Connecticut some 67km from Orchard Beach.

View Barnacle Goose in a larger map

03 December 2010

Whats going on with wintering Blackcaps?

Very few Blackcaps used to stay/survive in this country during the winter but instead go south to Iberia or northern Africa. These days it is still very nice to see one in winter but it wouldn't warrant organising a big twitch.

Are Blackcaps staying for the winter or is something else happening?

Ringing recoveries have shown that our Blackcaps in summer are replaced with birds from continental Europe when winter arrives (e.g. 159 ringed from Belgium and 50 from The Netherlands so far). These birds are now able to survive better, possibly due to warmer winters and/or an increase in garden bird feeding.

Saying that, we have just heard from John Walshe, where he had ringed a breeding female Blackcap on 17 May 2010 and he has just caught it again at the same site in mid Suffolk. Obviously this bird hasn't gone south as expected, so is this a new strategy to get back to the breeding grounds quicker or is this just a rare occurrence? More ringing for winter Blackcaps is needed I think.

Thanks to John Walshe for letting us know and Dawn Balmer for the photo.

02 December 2010

Swedish birds legs

Raymond Duncan writes:

A long morning for Lindsay Cargill, Walter Burns, Derek Robertson and Euan Ferguson in Allenvale Cemetery, Aberdeen on 5/11/10 was finally interrupted by a single waxwing flying into the mist net. It turned out be a juvenile male wearing a Swedish ring 3474720! Ringing information is on its way.

Sadly and unbelievably this bird killed itself against a window 5 days later in Aberdeen. The legs and rings arrived back in the post thanks to local ornithologist Ian Patterson. The bill from Royal Mail for £1.19 for the oversize package is in the post Ian! Never the less, this is our first recovery (not including sightings) out of nearly 200 Waxwings ringed!

Another 9 window fatalities of which none were ringed, were collected from another site but please keep checking any dead birds, roaming flocks and any photographs of Waxwings for colour rings.

Thanks very much to all for sightings so far. Most recent sightings have been from Harry Bickerstaff in Montrose, Jim Duncan at Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow and Kane Brides in Greater Manchester. Jim Duncan sent a photograph of a colour-ringed bird showing only the metal and white ring, which wasn’t enough to identify the individual. He very kindly returned the next day only to get a photograph of a different colour-ringed bird!

Raymond Duncan
(On behalf of Grampian Ringing Group)