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 Cl├ęden.

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.