21 December 2012

Last minute Christmas time news

This week has been a very interesting time to be in the Demography team.

Ringers have a great habit of checking any dead birds they find for rings, as they are well aware that any wild bird could have one. Mark Lawrence for example, was travelling down the road in a car and noticed a dead Blackbird that had been hit by a car but duly stopped to check it for a ring. Amazingly it did indeed have a ring... from Sweden!

During a ringing session this afternoon (21/12/2012) Denise Wawman was ringing in her garden in Somerset and caught a Brambling with a ring. Assuming she had ringed it in a previous year she was rather shocked to read the address on the ring was from Russia! This would be the 3rd ever from the Russian Ringing Scheme.

Brambling - Denise Wawman

The big news is that we have just issued the 6000th ringing permit! Twenty year old Zac Hinchcliffe (below) received this permit recently after ringing over 2,800 birds. He has been on ringing sessions catching Oystercaters and caught birds that could have been even older than he was.

Zac Hinchcliffe with permit number 6000... and a Long-eared Owl chick
Thanks to all our ringers and nest recorders who have done us proud again this year with their efforts during a very wet season and also to everyone who has found and reported a ringed bird.

17 December 2012

Sanderling update

You may remember that we posted a story on the Demog Blog recently regarding a Sanderling that was caught by the Wash Wader Ringing Group wearing a ring from the Switzerland Ringing Scheme. Click here if you missed it.

As Switzerland doesn't have any shoreline we thought that this bird could have been ringed in an African country, which doesn't have it's own ringing scheme and therefore might have used Swiss rings, but we were wrong. This bird was in fact ringed in Switzerland. Not only that but out of a group of 40 birds seen flying over, only two were caught and ringed. The ringing location however is quite amazing. These birds were ringed at Col de Bretolet Ringing Station high in the Swiss Alps!

During foggy conditions these birds were migrating over the Alps when they came low enough for the mist nets. These birds represent the highest attitudinal record for this species in Switzerland, and probably the highest Sanderling ever ringed, at 1925m above sea level.

Mist nets are set from August to November to catch migrating birds. This year a total of 16,456 birds were ringed from 94 species, with the main species being Chaffinch, Robin, Pied Flycatcher, Siskin and Willow Warbler.

Thanks to our colleagues in Switzerland, and to Jacquie Clark for the photos of the Col de Bretolet Ringing Station.

14 December 2012

Common Gull ringed when the Queen was 10 weeks old

Thanks to the Euring reporting website that non-ringers use to report ringed birds, we receive an average of 90 reports of BTO ringed birds per week. This number doesn't include recoveries by letter and ringers catching ringed birds of course. Most of the reports are of recently dead birds but there is a very small percentage of rings that have been found using metal detectors.

The ringing details of these birds take more time to find, as these birds have usually been dead for some time but well worth the effort. One report recently was of a ring that was found on 04 November 2012 at Green Ore, Wells, Somerset by John Durnell. As soon as we read that the ring also had Whitherby, High Holborn, London on the ring we realised how old this ring was.

Ringing in this country first started in 1909 but this ring was placed on a 1st year Common Gull on 3 July 1926 at Ard na Cailc, Dornoch Firth, Highlands! This was a distance of 738km in 31,537 days between ringing and finding (although the bird was dead for most of this). Amazingly ony 28 Common Gulls were ringed in 1926 compared with 716 last year.

Thanks to John Durnell for letting us know and for supplying the photos.

05 December 2012

Kent Common Gull sets new longevity record

Derick Hiemstra and his 69-year-old father (below) are dedicated gull ringers in The Netherlands, ringing from their garage at Surhuisterveen. When they caught Common Gull EK42603 on 1st December, they noticed that the ring was rather worn, and as this was the first British-ringed Common Gull they'd caught, they were interested to know how old it was.

It turns out that EK42603 was ringed as a first-winter bird at Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 12th January 1985, making it almost 28 years old. This is a new longevity record for a UK Common Gull, beating the previous record of 25 years of an Irish bird.

Quite incredibly, Derick also held the European longevity record, resighting a Danish bird (5003247) almost 34 years after ringing!

But EK42603 now also has a shiny new colour ring (white E61K), so hopefully this isn't the last we'll hear of this OAG.

Check out more UK longevity records online here, and European records here.

28 November 2012

Duck happy

Phil Jones writes:

All ringers know that certain birds can become frequent visitors to traps and are prepared to enter them and eat the bait regularly. The inconvenience of waiting for release being outweighed by the readily available supply of food.

Tufted Duck taken by Barry Yates

The site at Icklesham runs a duck trap during the winter months and catches a trickle of Mallard, Tufted Duck and Coot. We know that female Tufted Duck with ring FA80827 is a regular visitor but we were surprised when she was retrapped for the hundredth time on 28 October 2012! She appears to be a migrant as she never turns up in the trap early in the autumn, in 2009 her first catch was 03 December and this year we caught her for the first time on 27 October. She was first ringed 27 September 2008 so hopefully will be a regular for many years to come.

Thanks to Phil Jones for letting us know and to Barry Yates for the great photo.

21 November 2012

Tawny Owl have to learn quickly

John Walshe writes:

"On 2 July 2003 while on my way into work to do a night shift, I came upon an adult Tawny Owl sitting stunned in the road at Stowupland, Suffolk having presumably just been clipped by a car. I stopped and picked it up, planning to just move it out of harm's way, whereupon it came back to life. I thoroughly examined it for any injury and it was unharmed and safe to ring. Luckily I had my ringing equipment in the car and promptly ringed the owl and released it.

Tawny Owl - Jill Pakenham

I didn't see or hear any more of this owl until nearly 8 years later, coming back from a night shift on the morning of 1 June 2011. There it was, again in almost the exact spot but badly stunned in the road but just alive. This time it seemed to have taken a bigger hit as it didn't revive at all and died. It's amazing that it had survived all that time by a fairly busy road which eventually claimed it, though not before raising lots of broods."

We have received varying numbers of Tawny Owl road reports over the past few years but relatively very few compared with Barn Owls (830 recoveries from 2009- November 2012). Below are the number of Tawny Owls that have been reported being hit by vehicles from 2009 to November 2012.

Thanks to John Walshe for letting us know.

16 November 2012

Bumper Little Stint year

With a latin name meaning a small grey waterside bird, the Little Stint is a gem among waders, especially in its breeding plumage.

We have had very few recoveries of this species in the history of the ringing scheme but things are now picking up. Up to 2011 we have had only had 16 reports of Little Stint ringed abroad and found in the UK and Ireland. Of these the majority (11 birds) were ringed in Norway, these were reported in the 1940s (1), 1960s (1), 1970s (2), 1980s (4), 1990's (2), 2000s (1).

Little Stint feeding - Dave Crawshaw
Due to a new colour ringing project in Norway, we have had a grand total of 7 sightings this year! Mike Marsh has let us know that he saw a group of 5 Little Stint at Orfordness, Suffolk. One of these was colour ringed and stayed around for a couple of days.This bird had only been ringed a mere 14 days previously and covered a distance of 1188km.

Little Stint winter in Africa, around the Indian Ocean and as far south as South Africa. There are also variable numbers in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, so it had a little further to go.

View Little Stint in a larger map

Thanks to Mike Marsh for letting us know.

12 November 2012

An exceptional Canadian goose

It's not every day we receive a report of a BTO-ringed bird in Canada, so when we recently received details of a goose shot in Quebec, interest was piqued. 1390992 was also carrying a neck collar and darvic ring (X2A) when shot in October 2012 at Gaspesie.

The bird, a Greenland White-fronted Goose, was originally ringed in Wexford, Ireland, in March 2012 and is only the second recovery of the species in the Americas. The first (colour-ringed 8MF)was also from Wexford, resighted in winter 1990/91 in Pennsylvania before returning to Wexford in subsequent winters. These two birds are also the only records of ringed Greenland White-fronted Geese in North America since the work of Finn Salomonsen in the 1940s and 1950s.

View Canadian goose in a larger map

Recoveies of Greenland White-fronted Geese are more likely to come from Iceland and, not surprisingly, Greenland - see the online ringing report for further details.

Tony Fox continues the story:

The Greenland race of Greater White-fronted Goose was considered very rare in the Eastern United States before 1980, with the few records of any Greater White-fronted Geese coming from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (mostly Long Island) and Connecticut. Interestingly, recent ringing of Canada Geese in west Greenland using yellow collars has shown these states to be the winter quarters for these geese which share the summer breeding areas with Greenland White-fronted Geese that normally winter exclusively in Ireland and Britain. Greater White-fronted Geese were also surprisingly rare in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.

However, in recent years, numbers have increased and since around 1995, the species has been reported annually from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as the coastal states of eastern USA. It is really difficult to judge if this is just the result of more observers, better equipped with better optics and improved knowledge, or due to a genuine increase in these geese occurring in the region, but certainly between 1979 and 2004 there were some 73 reports of Greenland White-fronted Geese in North American Birds and the frequency of reporting has likely increased since that time. It seems likely that Greenland White-fronted Geese have always wandered down into North America, since there were ringing recoveries of individuals marked in west Greenland recovered in Quebec 12 October 1946, the Magdalene Islands, Quebec 1 October 1959 and in New Brunswick 22 October 1966, despite the relatively low numbers of individuals marked in the population during this period.

Since 1979, over 2600 Greenland White-fronted Geese have been marked in Ireland, Britain, Iceland and Greenland, yet only one has ever been resighted in North America: 8MF was ringed at Wexford in SE Ireland in winter 1989/90 but wintered in Pennsylvania in 1990/91 but returned to winter at Wexford in 1991/92 and 1992/93. The recovery of X2A, ringed at Wexford in winter 2011/12, from Gaspesie on the Quebec southern shore of the opening to the St Lawrence Seaway is thus an exciting yet rare record of the subspecies from the New World. Given that the population of the Greenland White-fronted Goose has increased rapidly during the 1980s and early 1990s before dropping back to mid 1980s populations levels in recent years, its seems likely that the subspecies remains a rather rare vagrant to the Canadian Atlantic Provinces and the coastal states of the US, probably individuals caught up with flocks of the Canada Geese that breed in west Greenland and that winter in this very area."

06 November 2012

Hola Common Gull!

Calum Campbell from Grampian Ringing Group writes:

After the continuing success of the large gull colour-ringing project in North-East Scotland, this summer Grampian Ringing Group undertook a new project to cover Black-headed and Common Gulls. One of the main aims of the project is to find out the dispersal and wintering patterns of the chicks from the various colonies in the region. On 30th June this year, we visited an inland colony of 2200 Common Gulls stretching over vast moorland (red pin).

Tillypronie colony - Euan Ferguson

There are very few colonies of such scale left in the UK after large declines in the breeding population. During the single ringing visit we ringed 180 chicks, 150 of which were also colour-ringed. Since ringing, six sightings have come in of Common Gull juveniles dispersing from this colony. Five of them were dotted around the North-East coast, valuable information, but we did get one sighting we did not expect.

Common Gull in Santa Crus de Oleiros - Antonio

A few days ago an email arrived from Sergio Paris, reporting that his friend Antonio had seen and photographed a Common Gull carrying an orange darvic (2XKN) in Santa Cruz de Oleiros, North-West SPAIN (green pin)!

According to the BTO recoveries database up until last year 94,916 Common Gulls had been ringed in the UK and Ireland. Only 1 of these had been recovered in Spain, a bird ringed in Kerry, Ireland in 1957 (blue pin)! Found only 7 miles from this one!

View Common Gull in Spain! in a larger map

This sighting is exceptional for the project and the ringing scheme but with only six sightings we are far from building a clear picture of where the majority of Grampian’s Common Gulls spend the winter. All sightings of all species of gulls are much appreciated and if you are not a ringer, sightings can be reported via ring.ac.

02 November 2012

Great Spotted Woodpecker reaches a Great age

Since 1909, ringing has occurred on these islands and with all this information, a great deal has been learnt about how long wild birds live.

The BTO has compiled a longevity list that is updated annually here, which includes the details of the oldest British and Irish birds wearing a BTO ring. At 3 years 2 months, the Firecrest burns out quite quickly, to the other end of the spectrum of the 50-year old Manx Shearwater.

Longevity records are beaten relatively rarely so it's a special occasion when a ringer re-catches a record breaking bird, unless it's a recently colonised bird like a Little Egret (9 years 6 months) or Egyptian Goose (12 years 5 months).

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker

The last longevity record for a Great Spotted Woodpecker was set in 1976 with a bird caught in Rochester, Kent. That has now changed with Alan Ball contacting us about a 10 year, 10 month and 30 day, female woodpecker at Bourne Wood, Lincolnshire!

The wing of a definite adult Great Spotted Woodpecker with retained primary covert

This year has also produced several old Blue Tits in Bourne Wood including one 7 years 11 months and one 7 years 10 months and another aged 7 years. Just a couple more years to break these records as well.

Thanks to Alan for letting us know and for the photographs. The online longevity pages will show his record once we have all the data in for this year.

26 October 2012

Norwegian Blue Tit update!

We have just heard from our colleagues of the Norwegian Ringing Scheme with an update of the Blue Tit wearing a Norwegian ring that was previously posted.

The first-year Blue Tit was ringed at Lista Bird Observatory, Farsund, Vest-Agder (58'06N, 06'34E) on October 5th. This bird was then caught 9 days later in Lerwick fit and well.

View NOS Blue Tit in a larger map

Alf Tore Mjös writes:
2012 has been another “big year” for Blue Tits in Scandinavia. Many have left the coastline and turned up on the remote island of Utsira 20 km off the west coast, including quite a few ringed at Lista Bird Observatory and Revtangen Bird Observatory. The usual movement of Blue Tits in southern Norway is along the coast from east towards west and then northwest to north.

Fair Isle Bird Observatory has also reported a Blue Tit in a garden while hoping for a Rubythroat. The warden writes on their blog "The last Fair Isle record of a Blue Tit was back on 1st January 1989, there have actually been 3 Rubythroats (including this years) on the island since this commonplace UK garden resident."

Thanks again for David Okill for letting us know and our colleagues in Norway.

22 October 2012

Norwegian ringed Blue Tit in Shetland

Dave Okill writes:

Autumn in Shetland brings falls of continental migrants on south-easterly winds and the end of the second week in October 2012 brought large numbers of Redwings with smaller numbers of Goldcrests, Blackbirds and Bramblings into the Isles. Reports of more uncommon birds were scattered over the next few days and included Olive-backed Pipits into double figures, a Treecreeper and unbelievably a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Scotland's first authenticated record.

On the 14th October, an Olive-backed Pipit and a Great Tit were found in a mature wooded garden on the edge of Lerwick. These were joined on the 16th by a Blue Tit which was seen to be ringed with a 'chunky' silver ring. Permission was obtained by members of the Shetland Ringing Group and on the next day the Great Tit and Blue Tit were caught. The ring on the Blue Tit proved to be from the Norwegian ringing scheme.

Blue Tits are very scarce late autumn migrants in the Northern Isles and they do occasionally over winter; in the exceptional year of 1988 at least 40 were recorded but in many years there are no reports, so a ringed bird in the Northern Isles is very unusual.

There have been a number of previous ringing recoveries of Blue Tits to and from the continent but
these have nearly all been from south-east England especially along the channel coast. There have
been 9 foreign birds recovered in England and 10 British ringed birds recovered abroad. The single
Blue Tit recovered from Norway was at Felixstowe, Suffolk. It is possible that some of these birds
moving across the channel could have been ship assisted, but difficult to prove.

We await the ringing details from Norway with interest.

Thanks to Ray Johnston for the photo

17 October 2012

A Greenshank fae Aiberdeen to Ireland to Spain

Raymond Duncan writes:

Over 250 Greenshank have been colour-ringed since 2005 in a joint Grampian/Tay RG project investigating the origins, site fidelity and onward movements of birds on autumn passage through the Ythan Estuary (near Aberdeen) and Montrose Basin, NE Scotland. Ten individuals have been resighted in Ireland and four in Spain.

Look out behind you! YB-LB has been recorded wintering
in NW Spain for the past 6 years. Photo by Antonio Gutierrez

Recent reports of juvenile 'RL: Light green/blue LL: Blue/black' have been particularly interesting not only because of the speed of travel but also because it is our first sighting that confirms some birds visit Ireland before re-orientating south to Spain and beyond for the winter. It was ringed as a juvenile on the Ythan Estuary on 11/09/12.

Dermot Breen then resighted and photographed it (below) 11 days later at Muckrush, Lough Corrib, County Galway, right over near the west coast of Ireland.

LB-BN in Galway, Ireland by Dermot Breen

He prudently commented that he thought the bird was just passing through as Greenshank aren’t too common at this inland site. How correct he was. Five days later Daniel Lopez Velasco resighted and photographed it (below) at Ponteceso Estuary, A. Coruna, NW Spain.

LB-BN in NW Spain by Daniel Lopez Velasco

Thanks very much to both for reporting these sightings. Please keep an eye out for colour-ringed Greenshank where ever you are. Holiday birders have reported colour-ringed birds in Morroco, the Nijer Delta and this regular spring visitor on the Cape Verde Islands.

LB-LO at Santiago on the Cape Verde Islands on 10/3/12 by Danial Mauras

12 October 2012

Skokholm Revitalised

Bird Observatories are located all over the UK and Ireland, on the coast or on islands. Their primary purpose is to conduct long-term monitoring of bird populations and migration, and encourage volunteers, particularly ringers, to aid in this study.

Skokholm off the Welsh coast, was Britains first accredited Bird Observatory in 1933 but closed down its ringing activities in 1976 when the landlords decreed that no trapping would be allowed. However the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales was able to buy the island in 2007 and in the last couple of years has been busy refurbishing the accommodation and has recently introduced ringing activities again alongside a rigorous recording system with the objective of once again becoming an accredited Bird Observatory.

In the last two seasons a small number of birds has been ringed during work party weeks but this limited activity has already produced a number of controls including the eighth Reed Warbler from Germany, Sedge Warbler from Scotland and Willow Warblers from Ireland, Scotland and southern UK.

In 2013 the island hopes to continue ringing (with the aid of a new Helgoland trap, increasing the total to three) and nest recording, as well as instituting some new studies on Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. Skokholm, like any top migration site, can be a stunning place on the right day and will provide some valuable data for conservation.

Thanks to Steve Sutcliffe for letting us know and for the photos.

08 October 2012

Late brood

Time is ticking

For many birds, this years nesting season has been hampered with wet weather and low temperatures. As a result, some have been recorded nesting later than they would normally.

On 2 October we received an email from Linda Adam in Devon, who still had a pair of Swallows feeding a brood of chicks! The nest records database shows that of the 45,000 Swallow nest records collected since 1939, only 16 have still had chicks in the nest in October. So this is indeed a very late brood!

Luckily a local ringer Nick Ward was on hand to inspect and ring these chicks, which have now fledged. They will have to gain weight and refine their flying skills quickly before heading south with the other Swallows that are now migrating to South Africa.

Northumbria Swallow roost

Richard Barnes writes:

Northumbria Ringing Group have attempted to catch Swallows at a roost in reedbeds at Birtley Sewage Works in Gateshead since 2006, and up to 2011 have caught almost 5500 birds.

This year, a combination of an easily netted roost site and suitable weather conditions have allowed 9 visits to be made to the roost, resulting in catches of between 205 to 637 birds, giving a total of almost 3500.

In 2010 a Swallow turned up in a mist net on the adjacent CES site bearing a South African ring,  having been ringed in Zambia on 23 Nov 2009. Only 25 Swallows have been caught in Britain or Ireland wearing a South African ring, and on 22 September 2012 we caught another one!

A selection of recoveries of Swallows that were ringed by Northumbria Ringing Group are mapped below (double click to zoom in) but not those recovered by Northumbria Ringing Group and ringed elsewhere.

View Swallow recoveries for Northumbria Ringing Group in a full screen map

Thanks to Linda Adam and Richard Barnes for letting us know and to John Harding for the photo.

19 September 2012

Swanderings abroad

Being large, white and usually occuring in large fields or water bodies, swans are an 'obvious' part of our countryside. In winter there can be large concentrations of birds, especially at WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) reserves, mainly comprising of the migratory Bewick's and Whooper Swans.
Our other swan species, the Mute Swan is seen in the UK all year round. Around 124,700 Mute Swans have been ringed in the UK and Ireland and from recoveries it's obvious that the majority of Mute Swans are sedentary. Once a bird finds a mate and a territory it remains faithful to the site and rarely moves more than 5km.

Mute Swan - Jill Pakenham

I received a phone call recently regarding a Mute Swan that had wandered into a John Deere tractor shed at Ringwood, Hampshire. It was very thin and in heavy moult so had to be taken into care but the signs are looking promising of a full recovery. Thankfully this bird was ringed and this ring hinted to its origins staight away. It was wearing a German ring from the Helgoland Ringing Scheme! It will be interesting to know when it was ringed, to see if the sea crossing had anything to do with its poor condition.

You will be used to seeing maps on the Demog blog but the BTO are now able to produce them on our 'recoveries summaries by species' online ringing reports section of our website. The map below is from the Mute Swan page which shows how special a German Mute Swan recovery is.

Mute Swan recoveries. Ringed in Britain or Ireland; Found in Britain or Ireland

11 September 2012

What happened to the Pied Flies?

Many nest recorders (www.bto.org/nrs) and ringers (www.bto.org/ringing) have reported low breeding success among the populations of Blue and Great Tits that they have been monitoring during the 'summer' of 2012, with bad weather and a related lack of invertebrate food taking their toll at a number of sites. Migrant Pied Flycatchers have similar habitat preferences and diets, but breed slightly later - Peter Coffey from Merseyside Ringing Group summarises the season as experienced by his study population.

Upper Valley

"What a strange year for my Pied Flycatchers in Denbighshire! It started so well with the earliest record of a female nest-building on 14th April, followed by the first egg on 25th April (site record – 24th April). Four more clutches were started on 28th/29th April but then almost nothing until a late rush between 9th-13th May. Numbers of nesting pairs were slightly below average but nothing to worry about.

Then all hell broke loose! 36% of Pied Flycatcher nests were predated at the egg stage, compared to the norm of 5%. Chief suspects were Weasel and Wood Mouse; smears of blood on the inside of two boxes suggest the females were taken.

The surviving nests achieved remarkably good success considering the weather with 85.7% of chicks fledging. As the size and frequency of caterpillars in the food diminished towards the end of the season it was not surprising that weaker chicks in later broods perished.

Four very late nests were probably re-lays by females that had lost their first clutch (one female had been ringed earlier at a nest that was subsequently predated). By any standards their fate this year was abysmal – 19 eggs converted into 9 chicks of which only one fledged! It was a combination of egg predation (again), addled eggs and chick death. It reduced the overall chick/fledging success rate to 81.2% and the egg/fledging success rate to 49.2%.

Pied Flycatcher male

My RAS work also suffered. Early predation occurred before I’d had a chance to trap sitting females and it’s often a struggle to trap males at late nests – they’ve started their moult and can be disinterested! So imagine my joy when I trapped the only male seen at any of the late nests – and it was a control (not ringed locally), my only one of the season!"

Thanks for Peter for letting us know and for the photos.

03 September 2012

Strange Swallow

Ringers are well aware that unusual bird movements or bird moult can hint at something yet to be discovered. While ringing in his Nottinghamshire garden Adrian Blackburn has caught over 700 Swallows this year, with most of them being juveniles but with some adults also. One of these was wearing a Spanish ring but more interestingly one bird seemed to be both adult and juvenile at first glance.

Juvenile Swallow

Unfortunately this Swallow was unringed (so origin unknown) but the most remarkable thing about this bird is that it was a juvenile that was going through its main moult into adult plumage, and replacing its wing feathers! British Swallows normally do this in Africa so a bird moulting in Nottinghamshire is was very unusual. The 'old' juvenile wing and tail feathers were much browner compared to the new growing feathers and this hints that this bird has been in a sunny location so unlikely to be in Nottinghamshire.

Swallow with older brown feathers and new blue feathers

Could this bird have hatched in Iberia and moved North to the UK instead of South to Africa (similar to reverse migration) or did this bird hatch in the far North and started moult before reaching its wintering grounds? Hopefully this bird will be captured again by a ringer further on in its journey and start to answer some of these questions.

Swallow tails with older feathers but replaced blue rump feathers

Thanks to Adrian Blackburn for letting us know and for the photos.

30 August 2012

Migrant Movement Magic

With migrants starting to move south, we have received reports of a few interesting recoveries.

David Coker writes:
“We managed to slot in our 12th and final visit to our Constant Effort Site at Much Marcle, Herefordshire yesterday morning.  The highlight was arguably a juvenile Redstart; one ‘already ringed’ juvenile Redstart, with a ring number beginning Y190. This seemed familiar to the team members who were ringing, because we used a few of my rings last week after the usual stock ran out; and those rings started Y190. Yes, I had ringed the Redstart, as a chick, on 9 June, in a nestbox at one of my Pied Flycatcher ringing sites SW of Hereford (31 km W of Much Marcle). The trainee who helped me ring the brood was with us again this morning.”

Redstart - Derek Belsey

More news came from Wilf Norman (South Cleveland Ringing Group) who was catching breeding Nightjar in a local forest. Amazingly he caught a male wearing a foreign ring! We have had very few recoveries abroad: BTO birds being found in Algeria (1), France (10), Morocco (2), The Netherlands (1) and Spain (1). Nightjar with foreign rings found in this country are much fewer in number, with the total being … Spain (1).  Now this has been doubled, Spain stand at two. The first Spanish ringed Nightjar was caught only 20 miles from this Nightjar capture, so the North York Moors have 'cornered the market' for Spanish ringed birds.

Nightjar- Derek Belsey

Thanks to David Coker and Wilf Norman for letting us know.

28 August 2012

A truly international recovery

We recently received a rather unusual recovery report in the office. A French visitor to Iceland found ring GN92442 on a footpath in western Iceland over the summer and duly reported it online via www.ring.ac

Nothing too odd about this I hear you sigh, but on processing the recovery we found that this ring actually belonged to a young Tawny Owl, ringed in the nest in Lothian, eastern Scotland, in June 2006! This is not a typical movement for a Tawny Owl, with no overseas recoveries in the 100-year history of the Scheme (see a summary here), so a bit of further investigation was required...

It then transpired that this bird had sadly died before fledging the nest and on finding the dead chick, the ringer involved had removed the ring and kept it on their binoculars strap. Our initial suspicions were proved correct when the ringer mentioned that they'd also made a recent trip to Iceland! When the strap on their binoculars broke, they were nearly lost down a cliff (and almost themselves trying to retrieve them), but hadn't noticed that the ring had been lost. So the ring went from Scottish bird, to Icelandic clifftop to French living room - a truly international recovery!

View GN92442 in a larger map

23 August 2012

Curtailed colonies

Roger Peart has been studying House Martins at Canford School, Wimborne, Dorset since 1994 as a RAS project, but has found 2012 to be a very unusual season:

“There has been a House Martin colony on various school buildings for at least 50 years and in the 1960s there were at least 65 active nests. This halved suddenly in 2002 and since then, 30-40 has been the norm. I aim to catch as many adult birds as possible each year and from 1994 to 2011, 555 adults were ringed, and a further 116 juveniles. A good number of birds have been retrapped in subsequent years, most within three years of first ringing, eight up to four years later and just two hardy individuals after five years.

Canford School

Catching sessions have to be confined to July and August when the school is on holiday; being a boarding school even the early mornings are not suitable during term time! The birds usually return at the end of April or during the first week in May and they have always been active feeding young at nests well into September, a few remaining into the first half of October. So it was a surprise this year to find that there were no birds at all on August 21st, either roosting in the nests or flying around.

House Martin nests

Where have the birds gone – and more concerning, why have they left the nests over a month earlier than usual? Although the weather in June/July was pretty poor recent weeks, in this part of England at least have been much warmer and less wet. What has caused this sudden exodus? Having seemingly gone en masse have some of them left unhatched eggs or even unfledged young? Only an inspection of the nests will provide an answer, so use of an endoscope will be required!”

House Martin

We have subsequently heard from another ringer, Jill Warwick, studying House Martins in Ripon, 370km to the north.

“It sounds like Roger’s birds departed about the same time as mine. I inspected the 12 nests on 31 July (all are artificial and slide out for easy checking) and there were five second clutches, some incomplete. Having left things for a week, I returned to catch some adults and the realisation dawned that there was a distinct lack of action around the martin cote. I checked the boxes again last week and the situation hadn’t changed since 31 July, with eggs apparently abandoned. There are House Martins present around the village, but ours had obviously had enough – usually the odd pair will stay into early September, but not this year!”

Thanks to Jill Warwick and Roger Peart for letting us know and to Roger for the photos.

17 August 2012

Celtic Kittiwakes update

Following the recent story on Cornish Kittiwakes, we've just heard back from Jean-Yves Monnat in France who originally ringed these birds.

All seven of the Cornish birds were originally ringed in the colony at Pointe du Raz, a series of steep cliffs in Brittany. All were ringed as chicks, in 2002, 2006, 2007 (two birds) and 2008 (two birds), and one other bird that had lost a colour ring can't be traced.

View Celtic Kittiwakes in a larger map

The most interesting of these though was Y,N,M-O,B,B (Paris FX18178). It was hatched and ringed in 2006 and seen annually in the colony since 2008: seven times in 2008, 13 times in 2009, 10 times in 2010, twice in 2011 and incredibly six times in 2012. It is likely that this bird tried to establish itself in its natal colony up to 2010 and then switched to breed in another area (Cornwall?) in 2011. In 2012 it was seen at Rinsey Cliffs seven times between 29th June and 20th July though didn't appear to be breeding. It was then seen on six consecutive days from 3rd August at a colony at Pointe du Van Cléden.

Another interesting bird is O,W,M-G,R,R (Paris FX18721), photographed above at Rinsey Cliffs. This was hatched and ringed at Pointe du Raz in 2007 and has been seen back there just twice, squatting a nest on 2nd June 2009 and 29th June 2011. It is likely that although this bird is still occasionally visiting its natal area, it's also actively trying to establish in another area.

14 August 2012

Kestrel vs Barn Owl - a nesting tale

The Barn Owl is by far the most commonly nest recorded owl species in the UK and Ireland (1,823 nest records in 2011, compared with 476 Tawny Owl and 143 Little Owl). The Barn Owl has benefited from all the hard work volunteers have put into increasing the number of possible nesting sites through Schedule 1 licenced nest box schemes all over the country. With the increase in nesting sites, Jackdaw, Stock Dove and Kestrel also nest in these boxes.

We have just heard from Adrian Blackburn concerning a Barn Owl box that has been used by Barn Owls for the last 3 years. When this box was checked on 05/06/2012 it had 5 white Barn Owl eggs and also 4 Kestrel eggs (below) that were being incubated by a female Barn Owl. This would normally mean that the owl had evicted the female Kestrel and laid her own. However when the next check was done, there were 5 tiny Barn Owl chicks and one tiny Kestrel chick, two warm Kestrel eggs and one addled Kestrel egg. The next box check had 3 Barn Owl chicks and the unhatched Kestrel egg.

As owls usually incubate from when the frst egg is laid, the owl chicks will hatch about a day apart, giving the earlier hatching chicks a better chance of survival during lean times. This is done by eating their siblings and in this case the smaller Kestrel chicks would probably be on the menu.

Adrian and his team have had dual occupation in their boxes before i.e. Barn Owl / Kestrel and Barn Owl / Stock Dove but never with a Barn Owl incubating the other species eggs and hatching them out!

Thanks to Jill Pakenham for the Barn Owl picture and Jim Lennon for the egg picture.

10 August 2012

Eggstremely long season

The breeding season starts in earnest in March, you might expect that by the beginning of August, most species would have finished nesting, giving both parents and their offspring time to grow or replace feathers and accumulate fat reserves in preparation for long migratory journeys or harsh winter conditions in the UK. However, volunteers taking part in the Nest Record Scheme are still reporting active nests of many species. It has been a terrible breeding season, with ringers catching very few young birds at Constant Effort Sites and migration hotspots, so these late broods could provide a vital boost to juvenile numbers at the eleventh hour.

After recent flooding destroyed the majority of breeding attempts, we thought that the Reed Warblers at our CES site in Norfolk would give up and move south, but 50 pairs were able lay one more clutch of eggs in a last ditch attempt to make their 9,000km round trip to Africa more worthwhile. The latest chicks will not be leaving the nest until the 26th August.


Many nest recorders still have Swallow and House Martin chicks to ring, with young broods reported this week by observers in North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Suffolk and birds sitting on eggs in East Lothian, Dorset and Devon, the latter close to a pair of Spotted Flycatchers with young still in the nest. Some resident species are still nesting too, including an incubating Yellowhammer found in Cambridgeshire on Tuesday, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow broods soon to be ringed in Suffolk and Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler and Linnet with large chicks this week in Devon.

Reed Warbler

Add to this the traditional late nesters such as Woodpigeon, for which the peak of the nesting season occurs in August and September, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Barn Owl, Moorhen and Coot, and there are still many more nest recording opportunities to be had in 2012! Contact the Nest Records Organiser for more information.

Thanks to Dave Leech for the photos

03 August 2012

Shore-runner where there's no shore

Breaking news - a routine ringing session by the Wash Wader Ringing Group (WWRG) produced a good catch of Sanderling and Dunlin with a nice surprise inside.

The UK and Ireland's shores are internationally important for their waders, either stopping to feed up while on passage or gathering in their thousands to stay for the winter. Thanks to ringing we know these birds have been recorded living to a ripe old age and in the case of Sanderling the current record is 17 years 7 months.

The WWRG had a nice catch of Sanderling and Dunlin this morning with quite a few birds they had ringed in previous years. They also caught a Dunlin wearing a French ring and one with a Spanish ring and a Sanderling with a French and one with a Spanish ring. One Sanderling however was very unexpected, this bird was wearing a ring that said Sempach i.e Switzerland!

The most obvious thought is that Switzerland doesn't have a shoreline and a rough check on the Euring Website shows very few have been ringed i.e. 29 Sanderling ringed between 1947 and 2007. It is possible that this bird could have been ringed using Swiss rings in another country that doesn't have a ringing scheme but this is still the first Swiss ringed Sanderling recorded in this country. It was possibly on its way to Africa and was a good weight and hadn't started its moult yet but we will have a clearer picture once we hear back from Sempach - watch this space.

Thanks to Neil Calbrade for the photo.

27 July 2012

Seek and ye shall find

I've been monitoring my local Kittiwake colony over the summer as part of a RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) project. The site is Rinsey Cliffs in west Cornwall and is one of the largest colonies in the county, holding up to 120 pairs in recent years. But the poor weather this year has dropped the number to 84, of which only around 65 have actually nested. But what I have seen are several French-ringed birds, easily identified by their unique combinations of colour rings. Over the summer I've recorded five different French birds in the colony, though don't yet have ringing details on these (although they'll be from colonies on the Brittany peninsula).

Some of these birds are what are known as 'squatters': young birds which visit other colonies looking for breeding sites. These birds, sometimes up to six or seven years old, will squat an active nest over the summer, taking over that nest in future years when it becomes available.

But not all have just been squatting and at least two have bred this year, showing how much interchange there must be within these local colonies. As part of our own colour-ringing of adults, we also caught a bird that had originally been ringed as a chick on the Isles of Scilly in 1999.

But as the summer progressed I 'lost' a few of my birds from the colony and did fear the worst. But a chance encounter whilst out climbing solved the problem and an afternoon of climbing/scrambling located a small satellite colony of around 20 pairs a kilometre from my main site. Incredibly, this site yielded two more French colour-ringed birds!

This is all the more incredible as there are previous reports of just six French-ringed Kittiwakes in Cornwall and only 70 in the whole of the UK! So seven in one area in one summer is exceptional, and certainly shows that if you do make the effort to look for these things then the rewards can be great.

Colour-ringed birds can be reported online via www.ring.ac or direct to the scheme coordinator via the cr-birding website.

20 July 2012

Woodpecker wanderings

Life cycles are the basic building blocks of life - you are born, you breed and then you die. However, we now live in a complex world of technologies and infrastructures and this simplistic life cycle is a bit more complicated.

That was the case for one Great Spotted Woodpecker, originally ringed near Ashford, Kent, that managed to produced a recovery after its death. We don't know why but this Woodpecker decided to go travelling one day. This fact may not be remarkable if it wasn't because it tried to catch a train instead of flying as birds do. Perhaps because it didn't have a ticket, it went in through a window and somehow died to be then found in Maidstone on the 18:20 train from Ashford to London. We are so grateful to the finder of the bird who took the time and effort to report this bird online via www.ring.ac.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Jill Pakenham

A couple of weeks later, another helpful person reported this bird, again via www.ring.ac, having found it in South Kensington. Perplexed, the Ringing Officer contacted finder 2 saying 'Sorry but you must have misread the number' How can this bird have moved another 55km after it was found dead and removed from the train?

After carrying out extensive research, we managed to reveal the mystery about this 'zombie' Great Spotted Woodpecker. Finder 1 found the bird freshly dead in a train in Maidstone and did what the ring says: INFORM BRIT MUS LONDON SW7. We are so grateful to her for going to the Museum in London. After reporting it she disposed of it in a Park in South Kensisngton, where finder 2 found it about a month later before the mechanisms of decay had started the transformation of the bird into dust, only to start the life cycle again.

11 July 2012

Wet Wet Wet! Not just a pop group, it's a British summer

Ringers and nest recorders have been finding it tough this year trying to fit in ringing sessions and nest searching between the rain storms. May produced some mixed results with some resident birds nesting successfully and others completely failing. June and July have so far been a bit wet with record levels of rainfall! The arrival of early migrants was staggered this year with some birds managing to fit in a successful breeding attempt and others arriving just in time for the rain.

Bob Burridge from Devon has been ringing for some 45 years and has been amazed by how bad this season has been for his study groups, the warblers and buntings. There have been some Chiffchaff and Whitethroat broods but he hasn't seen any fledglings of Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap and Reed Bunting which are normally very prolific at this time of year at his ringing site in South Milton Ley. All of his Spotted Flycatcher nests so far this year have also failed.

The wet weather coupled with wind and low temperatures have really hindered the migrants' food resources. Hopefully things will improve and some of the birds may still have time to have a successful breeding attempt but the weather man isn't so confident.

Thanks to Bob Burridge for letting us know and to Amy Lewis for the photo of the Chiffchaff.

04 July 2012

10 Millionth Milestone continued...

Back in Feburary we posted a story regarding a Swallow that was the 10 millionth record to be added into the EURING databank (click here to read that post) .

This female Swallow was ringed on 16 April 2011 in Malta, while on passage and was later caught by another ringer in Raby, Czech Republic on 19 Jun 2011. She would have then travelled to South Africa for the winter, and we have just heard that this bird is now back at her breeding site in the Czech Republic!

Current reports of Swallow breeding success in the UK have not been good so far this year. Growth of chicks has been slower than normal and some failed attempts have been reported, especially during the wet and stormy weather. Hopefully the latter half of summer will be more benificial to Swallows.

Thanks to Dick Jeeves for the photo.