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.