23 December 2013

Returning (ringed) Great Grey Shrike

We recently received some photos of a ringed Great Grey Shrike wintering in Lincolnshire, which were just about good enough to allow us to read the number.

With a bit of photo-editing and squinting, we can just about make out 4606 on the ring, which is a pretty good start. We can also just about see the 'ww' of the web address we now put on rings (www.ring.ac) and considering that the address is at the top of the ring this is almost certainly a BTO-ringed bird anyway.

So with that vague detail, a quick look at the database shows that there have been fewer than 20 Great Grey Shrikes ringed in the last three winters (13 ringed in winter 2011/12, four ringed in winter 2012/13 and so far this winter we have details of just two). Now if we assume that the ring does indeed include 4606 then one possibility stands out - LE46061, ringed as an adult at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory on 4th November 2012. So presumably it had also spent last winter unnoticed somewhere in the East Midlands, but will be one to look out for over the coming months.

LE46061 when it was ringed in November 2012

Not the longest of movements!- view Great Grey Shrike in a larger map

Many thanks to Dave Roberts for sending us the images to set us off on this wild shrike hunt, and to George Gregory for the photo of the bird when it was ringed at Gib.

20 December 2013

100,000 encounters

Richard du Feu writes:

On the 17th December 1972 John McMeeking made his first ringing visit to Treswell Wood, Nottingham. Soon afterwards systematic ringing began covering seven standard sites around the wood along with visits to additional rides when time allowed. 41 years less two days later the 100,000th encounter (ringed and already ringed) record of birds ringed within the wood was made. Rather fittingly this bird was a Treecreeper which has been the logo of the group for the last few years. The photo below is of John McMeeking holding encounter number 100,000. Remarkably this was one of six Treecreepers caught simultaneously within 30 metres of netting.

John McMeeking with a Treecreeper - taken by John Clark

Initially John had said he wanted to find out what was in the wood and maybe get a paper or two out of ringing in the wood. It is safe to say that the latter has happened. The most noteworthy of these papers was the first paper to show that CES (Constant Effort Site) data did successfully monitor juvenile abundance. The various papers have only been possible because of the continual systematic monitoring, recording and hard work of all the CBC (Common Bird Census) recorders, nest recorders and ringers.

Updated 22/12/2013.

17 December 2013

Lost(?) Snow Bunting in France

With a chill in the air, it only seems right that we've just received details of a very bizarre Snow Bunting movement... With the aid of some excellent photos, we were able to read the ring of VX35928, seen on 22nd November at Moosch, France, right on the French/Swiss/German border.

VX35928 in northeast France in November
Interestingly, this bird had been ringed by East Norfolk Ringing Group as a young male at Eccles on Sea, Norfolk, just six days previously! It is interesting to think where these East Anglian birds are coming from, and as the two races can be identified on plumage (easier in the hand!), studies have shown that 80% of females in East Anglia are from Iceland whereas 80% of males are from Scandinavia (or Greenland).

The only other British-ringed Snow Bunting found in France was, more typically, found on the Belgian border, but an inland record so far east is almost unprecedented. There is one slightly more bizarre record, which bears many similarities with this recent record. AC96749 (also a young male) was ringed at Walberswick, Suffolk, on 4th November 1962 and shot just 14 days later in northeast Italy. So the fact these were both males and found so far east presumably means they were both Scandinavian birds wanting to winter more to the east than the UK...

All movements of Snow Buntings to/from Britain, with VX35928 in red
Having said that... the East Norfolk Ringing Group obviously do see birds from both races, as they caught the bird below on 8th December, wearing a shiny Icelandic ring! This is a bit more expected, with almost 50 exchanges between here and Iceland.

Many thanks to Marc Solari for the photos of the bird in France to allow us to read the ring and to Dave Andrews for the photo of the Icelandic-ringed bird.

05 December 2013

Demog Blog at Swanwick

OK, so whilst 'Demog Blog' itself won't be physically appearing at Swanwick this weekend, it will be making a guest appearance in a 'Social Media' talk on Sunday morning. So keep an eye out for it then and say hi if you're attending!

Speaking of all things social media, we thought we'd take this opportunity to shamelessly plug a few of the other BTO social media sites and some of the blogs we follow. The BTO itself exists on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, so why not like/follow/subscribe to keep up-to-date on what's going on in the BTO world. There are also various surveys on Twitter, including BirdTrack, Garden BirdWatch and WeBS.

On the blog front, if you've not already noticed, then check out the list of related blogs in the right-hand pane (unless you're reading this on a reader or on your phone!). Whilst it's not fair to pick out any blogs in particular, why not browse the list and see what takes your fancy. Recent posts on some of the regulars include portable Helgoland traps, Siberian Chiffchaffs, Dartford Warblers, hidden Kittiwake colonies, a Scandinavian invasion, Belgian Redwing, dawn to dusk ringing, and another cross-billed Blue Tit!

Bardsey Bird Observatory's versatile portable Helgoland trap

Another bizarre Blue Tit - this time on Peter Alker's blog
If you have a ringing-related blog yourself that doesn't feature on Demog Blog then let us know and we'll add you to the list. If you don't have a blog, but do have a story to tell, then you know where we are (ringing@bto.org).

29 November 2013

Crossbill, Avocet or Wrybill?

Beak deformities in wild birds are unusual, with fewer than one in 200 adult birds thought to be affected. As long as the bird can feed and preen once a bill is deformed enough that the tip isn't constantly worn away, it can grow to amazing lengths.

Juvenile Blue Tit with the a bill deformity. Ipsley Alders Nature Reserve, Mike Barstow

Whilst ringing at Ipsley Alders Nature Reserve, Redditch, Mike Barstow retrapped a Blue Tit on 25/11/2013 that he previously ringed on 19/01/2012 with no deformity noted. This bird now had a severely deformed bill (below). The bird appeared healthy with good plumage, muscle and even had a trace of fat. There are therefore two birds (above and below) that have been recorded at this site which have developed a beak deformity within a few years.The research continues.

Adult Blue Tit. Ipsley Alders Nature Reserve, Mike Barstow

Measuring bill length to investigate growth rate for future captures- Mike Barstow

 Types of beak deformities in the wild:
  • Crossed mandibles: similar to that of a Common Crossbill perhaps caused by slight asymmetry of the jaw. Straight beaks have been recorded as a deformity in Crossbills.
  • Decurved upper mandible: can occur when the tip of the lower mandible is damaged so that the beak does not close correctly.
  • Upcurved lower mandible: may occur when the tip of the upper mandible is missing (i.e. broken off).
  • Elongation of both mandibles: produces ‘Curlew-type’ beaks, although the degree of curvature varies considerably between individuals.
  • Bent to the side: seemingly uncommon, with one or other mandible warping sideways.
  • Gapped: where the upper and lower mandibles do not close fully leaving a visible gap.
For more information click here

20 November 2013

Wandering Caspian Gulls

We don't have many recoveries of Caspian Gulls and the ones we do get are colour-ring sightings of foreign-ringed birds: most are from Poland (62), with smaller numbers from Ukraine (8) and singles from Germany and Switzerland. But we have only recently started seeing reports from abroad of British-ringed Caspian Gulls and these have all involved birds ringed by the North Thames Gull Group at either Pitsea Tip (Essex) or Rainham Tip (London). A young bird ringed in December 2011 spent most of spring 2012 on Texel (The Netherlands) and another young bird ringed in October 2011 was seen at Blaringham (France) and Neeltje Jans (The Netherlands) over the rest of that winter and then on and off until March 2013. But perhaps the most interesting is GG61181 (Orange PR6T); ringed as a second-winter bird at Pitsea Tip in February 2010.

GG61181 at Pitsea in February 2010

PR6T was then seen in Germany in December 2011 and this east-west migration of Caspian Gulls seems to be the norm. True to form PR6T was then recently seen again, but this time in The Netherlands, on Terschelling Island on 18th November.

GG61181 in The Netherlands last week

Once again this highlights the kind of information that can be gained from colour-ringing studies, all of which rely on the support of the wider birding community in looking for and reporting these birds. Full details for this bird (and further photos) can be found on the North Thames Gull Group website, where you can also report any NTGG birds seen. Thanks to Paul Roper from the group for passing on this story and for the photos of he bird in the hand, and to Jacob de Vries for the photo of the bird in The Netherlands.

12 November 2013

A Mediterranean beach

Allan Hale writes:
"I have been reading Mediterranean Gull rings on the beach at Great Yarmouth since 1999. Of late a group of us have been taking the project much more seriously and we try to make a monthly visit during the period from late summer until the end of winter.

Since the 2009-10 winter we have identified 58 different Mediterranean Gulls that were ringed in 10 different countries.  They have originated from Belgium (32), Germany (12), France (3), Poland (3), U.K. (2), The Netherlands (2), Denmark (1), Czech Republic (1), Hungary (1) and Serbia (1).  There have been multiple sightings of many of these gulls.  Many valuable life histories have been identified, with some of the birds mentioned above also visiting Spain, Portugal and The Azores.

Mediterranean Gull - Dawn Balmer

Mediterranean Gulls have been shown to reach a ripe old age. Three of the birds we have seen this winter were originally ringed in 2001, one of them already 3 years old when ringed. We are anxiously looking out for another which was ringed back in 1999 and last seen at Great Yarmouth during late 2012.

Reading colour-rings has been a rewarding experience. Many onlookers have shown an interest in what we have been doing and have been amazed at the results."

Lee Barber writes:
"Even with all the data collected of colour ringed birds, there are still quite a few unringed birds that visit the site, that we know nothing about. Allan decided to take this project to another level and with the help of Jez Blackburn and his Cannon Netting skills and the kind permission of Seafront Enforcement and Facilities Officer, Keith Eglington, an attempt to catch and ring some of the unringed birds and to collect biometric data on the ones that already have rings was organised.

Now a scarce regular breeding bird, about 20 chicks are ringed every year and the annual total for adult Med Gulls for the last nine years vary from none to eight. These birds can be very wary to anything unusual but hopes were high for a catch, even if it was just one bird (see online report).

Canon net firing - David Pelling

After a couple of canon net fires and 15 unringed and 3 ringed in Belgium Med Gulls were safe under the net, with a few Black-headed Gulls. They were then metal and colour ringed, aged, weighed and measured and then released. We were lucky to have a reasonably large catch and we were able to compare the different ages of birds (below). The second year bird has a light orange beak but more importantly has black wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull. First year bird left, second year bird middle, adult right - David Pelling
Hopefully as the winter goes on, more gulls will be ringed and add to our knowledge of the survival and movements of this species. Some birds visiting Great Yarmouth have been seen more than 200 times so the life histories of these birds is fascinating.

06 November 2013

First BTO Chiffchaff to Hungary

It's not every day we see recoveries of passerines in Hungary, as it's much more expected to see records of things like colour-ringed Mediterranean Gulls from there (almost 1000 to date!). In fact, there are just two records of BTO-ringed passerines found in Hungary and, unsurprisingly, both were Lesser Whitethroats. The other way round, the only Hungarian-ringed passerine found here was the equally exceptional record of a Sand Martin recaught by ringers in Lincolnshire in 2008.

So it was a pleasant surprise to hear of a BTO-ringed Chiffchaff caught in Hungary (at Hódmezővásárhely, Csongrád) on 2nd November, shown by the star on the map below. This bird had been ringed as a juvenile at Eskmeals, Cumbria, in July 2013, so was presumably still on southward migration when recaught: or perhaps displaced by the back end of 'St Jude'?

ADV129 when recaught recently in Hungary

Foreign finding and ringing locations of UK Chiffchaffs
It would seem more likely to find a British Chiffchaff so far east on spring migration, but oddly the only vaguely similar record concerns a Ukrainian-ringed bird killed by a cat in Peterhead, Grampian, in December 1987. This bird had been ringed two months earlier so who knows where it was going!

Thanks (and congratulations) to Erna Borbáth for the photos of the bird in Hungary.

31 October 2013

Art meets science – both win

On Wednesday evening I found myself in an art gallery in London, wearing a suit. As someone far more accustomed to donning chest waders and traipsing through reedbeds, the ‘fish out of water’ analogy would have seemed particularly appropriate, were it not for the nature of the event - the presentation of the Dilys Breese Medal and Marsh Awards at the annual Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) exhibition.

The best clue to proceedings was probably the 10ft high giraffe forged from scrap metal to which all eyes were drawn on arrival, a piece by SWLA President  Harriet Mead, daughter of the BTO Ringing Unit’s inimitable Chris. A diverse array of floral and faunal images cloaked the walls; while styles ranged widely from the abstract through the impressionistic to the feather-perfect, the quality was uniformly outstanding, as one would predict from the prestigious list of exhibitors which included Bruce Pearson, Carry Akroyd, Esther Tyson and Darren Woodhead. Those expecting an air of contemplation and quiet appreciation were in for a surprise, as the room buzzed with the sort of conversation and excitement that (and I appreciate I may be slightly biased here) can only be generated when wildlife enthusiasts gather together. Artists mingled with journalists, BTO supporters and surveyors, exchanging tales of recent observations, experiences and inspirations, their different perspectives on a shared passion reflecting the theme of the evening, that art really does “breathe life into science”.

And true to form, science was given equal billing on the night, the medal and award presentations honouring outstanding individual contributions to the world of ornithology. The Dilys Breese Award highlights achievements in the world of the media, and I was really pleased to see John Ingham from the Daily Express join the list of recipients. My first contact with John was back in 2008 when he ran a piece on Cuckoos and Reed Warblers (before it became my personal obsession), and in recent years he has become an increasingly staunch BTO supporter, helping to spread the word about targeted surveys such as Winter Thrushes and Blackcaps.

The Marsh Awards, developed by the Marsh Christian Trust, celebrate achievements in all walks of life, but tonight the focus was ornithology. Dr Jim Cassels, the winner of the Marsh Award for Local Ornithology, Regional Organiser for the BTO Bird Atlas 2007–11 on Arran. Now, I spent many summer holidays on the island in my youth, so I fully understand that achieving complete coverage of all 139 tetrads is no mean feat, given the sparse population, difficult terrain and distinct lack of tarmac. The fact that Jim, working with the Arran Natural History Society, managed to persuade 700 individuals to submit records is astounding, and I can’t wait to see the end product.

The president of SWLA - Harriet Mead

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology was presented to Dr Christian Rutz of the University of St Andrews, who has pioneered the development of miniature cameras that can be mounted on individual birds, collecting unique information on their behaviour. I’ve seen footage from his corvid-cams on the internet and was gutted not to get a chance to speak to him, as I’ve got a few ideas I’d like to discuss (which may or may not involve Cuckoos and reedbeds…..).  I was equally pleased to see Dr Jane Reid from the University of Aberdeen collect her Marsh Award for Ornithology – Jane is a dyed in the wool ringer, having started training at 16, which gives her a real understanding of the practicalities of scientific studies as well as analytical techniques. Her impressive publication record encompasses everything from Starling incubation to Shag population dynamics, and she is also renowned for providing sage advice to amateurs who want to develop their own ringing studies, particularly during Scottish Ringers Conferences where she remains an oasis of calm in frequently chaotic surroundings!

The final presentation of the night was made to Dr Lars Svensson, winner of the Marsh International Award for Ornithology. This is a man who is a deity in the eyes of many, including myself, having produced the ringers’ bible in the form of the ‘Identification Guide to European passerines’, a unique publication that details the ID features and aging and sexing criteria for every songbird species found on the continent. Without this book we would simply be unable to collect the data that allows us to calculate survival rates in such detail. Such is the volume of information contained within, that I had long presumed ‘Lars Svensson’ was a brand, not an individual, an umbrella term for a room full of dedicated researchers armed with wing rules and eye colour charts. While I didn’t get a chance to confirm his identity through biometrics, I can now confirm that he is but one man – how he also finds time to produce birders’ bible the Collins Guide, I cannot imagine.

Professor Bill Sutherland (right) presenting Dr Lars Svensson (left) with the Marsh Award for International Ornithology

The opportunity to chat to ringing stalwarts such as Andrew Harris and Peter Wilkinson was the icing on the cake and I hope that my attire was convincing enough to be invited back in future years. I’d highly recommend that anyone passing by the Mall Gallery between now and the 10th November has a look around the SWLA exhibition as the artwork on display is truly amazing – don’t forget your chequebook!

Posted by Dave Leech

14 October 2013

Adopted Avocet suffers identity crisis

BirdTrack Organiser Nick Moran was surprised to find an interloper in the Oystercatcher roost at Snettisham RSPB reserve in late September.

Avocet M8 seemed happy enough with it's equally pied roost mates and interestingly the story took a much stranger turn when we heard back from the ringer.

M8 was ringed as a chick at Dunkirk, near Ely, in Cambridgeshire earlier in the year and had already featured on the inside back cover of BirdWatching magazine (September 2013). Here it was seen being fed a leatherjacket by one of its apparently adopted parents; an Oystercatcher! Once M8 had made the switch from natural parents to adoptive parents, it remained with them exclusively before fledging and departing.

So whether Avocet M8 now thinks it's an Oystercatcher is an intriguing question, and we wonder if it now feeds side-to-side sweeping (as an Avocet should) or is trying to probe (as an Oystercatcher would). It might also make finding a mate later in life an interesting proposition!

10 October 2013

Sandwich Tern: a potential US first from Northumberland

Earlier in the autumn we received a very interesting report from the USA, of a ringed Sandwich Tern that really sounded like a BTO-ringed bird. Sandwich Terns aren't the commonest bird anyway in northeast USA, but interestingly in recent years most authorities have split the (Eurasian) Sandwich Tern from the (Nearctic) Cabot's Tern. The American Ornithologists' Union have yet to follow suit, but if they do then a record of a ringed bird is a sure-fire way to confirm its identity.

For such an important record we were eventually able to confirm the ring number with the finder and this was indeed a bird from Northumberland: DB67406 had been ringed as a chick on Coquet Island in 2002. With just one previous record of a 'possible' in Chicago in 2010 (details here), this bird could well turn out to be the first Sandwich Tern record for the USA.

DB67406 was seen by biologist Jeff Spendelow, who studies the use of staging sites by Roseate Terns in the Cape Cod area of southeast Massachusetts. It was first seen on one of his study sites on 31st July, but it wasn't until 21st August that Jeff was able to read its ring, with it also later seen at nearby Chatham on 7th September (in red on the map below). Several other intrepid American birders managed to paddle out to the islands to see the bird, but it was hardly 'twitchable'! Photographs of the bird do also show many of the features used to seperate Sandwich from Cabot's Tern, but you can't argue with a bird ringed as a chick in Europe!

Interestingly, there is an equally unusual record the other way round, with a Cabot's Tern from the USA being found dead in the UK (in green on the map below). NAW 110386842 was ringed as a chick at Beaufort, in 1984 and was found dead in November 1984 at the rather bizarre location of Newhouse Wood in Herefordshire. It was reported independently (as a tern/gull) by two observers so is genuine, and is the first record of Cabot's Tern in Europe. There have since been further records in Europe (including a possible Cayenne Tern in Wales), but this remains a most bizarre first.

View Sandwich and Cabot's Terns in a larger map

Recent work at several Sandwich Tern colonies in the UK has seen large numbers of chicks being colour-ringed, an even better way of keeping track of their movements. At Coquet, 52 chicks were colour-ringed this year alone, with a further 102 on the Farne Islands. Of the latter, 11 have been seen further north in the autumn, from Musselburgh to Findhorn. Birds have also been colour-ringed in Norfolk, Grampian and The Netherlands, so plenty to keep an eye out for.

26 September 2013

The future’s bright - the future’s green

I remember the exact day that I became hooked on birds. I was four years old and my family had just moved to North Norfolk. My Dad, Tony, a biology teacher who is interested in all things natural history, went with a colleague to see a male Hen Harrier that had been roosting on Kelling Heath and I tagged along. I’d been looking at birds in the garden for a year or two previously (and have the check-list, full of terrible spelling mistakes and even more horrendous misidentifications to prove it), but this was definitely the point of no return; fast forward 35 years and I am now a qualified ringer and keen nest recorder who has the privilege of working on birds for a living as a BTO staff member.

Male Hen Harrier - the species responsible for Dave writing this post. Copyright Martin Bennett
The path from hobby to career was fuelled by many things. The proximity of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley reserve, just four miles north of my home, did no harm in terms of reinforcing my interest, as did the endless streams of high quality documentaries, particularly those featuring the soporific tones of David Attenborough, which were compulsory viewing in my house. It was people who made the real difference, though – parents (my Mum, Barbara, still collects Blackbird colour-ring resighting data for me), teachers (Dave Horsley and Ralph Wiggins deserve special mention) and friends (Gav Horsley and Nick Acheson in particular) who tutored me and, equally importantly, transported me to the local hotspots. OK, so I didn’t have access to the wonders of the internet, but then I didn’t have the distractions of it either.

Dave's Mum Barbara has been collecting colour-ring resighting data on individually marked Blackbirds in her garden almost every day since March 2007
But this post isn’t about me as I’m rapidly becoming the past; it’s about the future, and that future is looking a little greener. A few days ago, Lorraine Miller directed me to an article on the wonderful A Focus On Nature website, an essential networking tool for any aspiring young conservationist. The piece was a focus feature on five naturalists, aged between 9 and 13, including Lorraine’s daughters Abby and Evie. I already knew that Team Miller were contributing to the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, but I was still amazed at the wealth of other surveys that were mentioned. Four of the five folk highlighted are already training to ring, including prolific bloggers Toby Carter and Findlay Wilde, or seeking trainers (and the photo of the fifth, Harley Wilde, sees him holding a bird at a ringing demo) while Garden BirdWatch, BirdTrack and the Winter Thrush Survey all feature.

Ringing demonstrations are a great way of sparking the conservation interest of the next generation, whether they go on to be ringers or not
This makes me a bit of a late-starter. While I was birding at four, I twitched away my teens and it wasn’t until I hit my mid-twenties that I started actually making a real contribution to conservation by participating in surveys. These guys have got a decade on me already, and most of them didn’t have the luxury of doorstep nature reserves or teachers with time to spend on after-hours activities. These are fast-tracked conservationists and, with green issues seemingly at their lowest ebb on the political agenda, we need them now more than ever.
Dave Leech
Head of BTO Nest Record Scheme

12 September 2013

Ringing Report for 2012 goes live

The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is one of the oldest in the world and has collected a wealth of information on the movement, survival and population change of bird species in Britain and Ireland.
Green Woodpecker by John Flowerday

The Online Ringing Report has just been updated. This includes the number of birds ringed and recaptured in 2012 and also the recovery and re-sighting information by county or species. For example the BTO Atlas species for the month is Green Woodpecker and the online report shows that we ringed 333 birds in 2012 compared with 406 in 2011 and 414 in 2010, so quite a drop in numbers over the past couple of years. We can also see a summary of all ringing recoveries for this species, which includes information on some of the oldest recorded birds found, and what happened to them. The longevity record for this species is 15 years set in 1985 when a bird was hit by a vehicle near Chertsey, Surrey.
Foreign location of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland since 1909 

If you are interested in a particular species or just certain locations or dates, the information is accessible via the Online Ringing Reports.

28 August 2013

The return of Sanderling NT88726

Below, Richard du Feu recalls one of those amazing moments when you meet an old friend on its travels...

"In the 25 years since my first visit to the Wash as a 9-year-old boy, there have been many memorable and interesting individual birds I have ringed and retrapped. But I have no doubt that NT88726 will remain as one of the highlights for many years to come.

Originally the Wash Wader Ringing Group caught this Sanderling in September 2010 and ringed it as a moulting adult. Fast forward to November 2012 when I joined an expedition to Portugal with members of the Farlington Ringing Group, primarily to work on Black Tailed Godwit and Sanderling. There in amongst a small catch of Sanderling near Lisbon was a British ringed Sanderling that I recognised as a bird ringed on the Wash. Colour rings were added as part of a project run by the University of Groningen (see the photo below, courtesy of Justin Walker).

On the recent WWRG summer trip to Snettisham, Norfolk, I was fortunate enough to be present when NT88726 was once again caught and, as in 2010, this bird was moulting.

NT88726 adds to our understanding of the Sanderling life-cycle and shows how important the Wash is, not only for the birds that winter on the Wash but also for birds that winter far south of the UK, using the large food resource of the Wash as a place to moult and fatten up for the long flight to their wintering grounds.

I look forward to resighting this special bird in Portugal in November."

14 August 2013

BTO at the Birdfair

Described as a birdwatchers' Glastonbury, the Birdfair celebrates its 25th Anniversary year. It continues to raise awareness and funds for declining species and habitats. This year it will support Birdlife International's Flyway Programme, focusing specifically on the Americas.

From Friday 16 - Sunday 18 August at Rutland Water, there will be hundreds of stands covering all aspects of birdwatching. The BTO will be there again this year in marquee 3 (stands 36, 37, 38), and are looking forward to seeing you, so come over and have a chat.

BTO stand - Marquee 3

As well as this, we will of course be at the Ringing Demonstration near Marquee 7, so please come over to say hello and find out all about ringing. There is usually lots to see including the regular Reed and Sedge Warblers, Blue and Great Tits but there have been some more unusual birds including Kingfisher, Turtle Dove, Sparrowhawk and Tawny Owl.

Ringing demonstration - Valuable data is collected on a Sedge Warbler

09 August 2013

Autumn migration underway

August is a great time to be out birdwatching and also ringing and nest recording. At this time of year birds including finches and pigeons are still nesting, but some have already finished breeding for the year and are starting to migrate, like our BTO Cuckoos. Waders start moving through our country at this time of year and we have had reports of Swallows starting to gather and Swifts leaving the country (graph below).

BirdTrack reporting rate for Swift

With the migration and dispersal of birds there are often interesting recoveries or sightings. Some recoveries from July include a Lesser Black-backed Gull ringed on the Isle of May, Fife in 1995 and seen in Spain (2170km), a Gannet ringed on Sule Skerry, Orkney in 2005 caught by another ringer in Iceland and a Spotted Redshank from The Netherlands had its ring read in Norfolk!

Gannet colony - Nigel Clark

One of the big stories was a sighting of a Balearic Shearwater being seen North West of Annet, Isles of Scilly. Not only is it the first ever report of a Balearic Shearwater wearing a ring in UK or Irish waters, but this bird was also wearing a small geolocator. To help save this critically endangered species, these loggers record the movements and behaviour of the bird while it is away from the breeding grounds. For more information on this data-logging project click here.

29 July 2013

Spring weather bad news for Barn Owls

Over the summer we've been hearing some pretty depressing stories of how badly Barn Owls seem to be doing this year. The poor spring weather appears to have been bad for small rodents, the staple diet of most Barn Owls. Birds in poor condition may choose to skip breeding for the year and others starting breeding may abandon attempts part way through due to lack of food.

Food shortages can severely limit breeding performance
(Jill Pakenham)

Below are a few extracts from emails and Forum posts we've received, giving a flavour of the season from around the country.

Lincolnshire (Alan Ball and Bob Sheppard)

"Only about 60 pairs have been found breeding so far, where we would have normally expected around 200 pairs by now. Only 55 chicks have been ringed compared with 160 by this time last year. Several pairs are just starting to nest, so there's hope that things may improve, though birds remain absent from many traditional sites

Kestrels are also down with nearly 150 chicks ringed against nearly 200 last year. Tawny Owl chicks numbered only a third of last years numbers, but Little Owl site occupancy was good with our best year ever of 70 pairs."

North West Norfolk (Phil Littler and John Middleton)

"I've just got in from checking 30+ boxes, and have got just three on eggs. Three sites had dead owls in or under the boxes, and just five sites held any Owls at all. A thoroughly depressing day. I thought it would be bad when my Tawny Owl totals showed a 75% drop on last year, but not as bad as this."

"Well now I have checked over 200 sites and only 34 pairs are breeding, 14 sites have pairs that are not yet breeding and 25 sites had single adults. So far I have only ringed 34 chicks although I do have to re visit 16 sites because chicks were too small or the female was incubating eggs. I still have a number of sites still to check but don’t expect it will get better. Can’t see the Group this year ringing anything like the 391 chicks we ringed in 2012!"

Wiltshire (Alison Rymell)

"I checked 11 boxes in the Deverill Valley in mid-June: none had either eggs or young. Only one had a pair of owls and one had a single owl. Another had a dead owl [long dead]. Four had Stock Doves, three with eggs. Of the 11 boxes, six normally have successful broods. Last year four of the six lost their first broods, three laid a second clutch and reared the young successfully."

Cornwall (Mark Grantham)

"We still haven't done all our boxes, but so far the season seems to be 5-6 weeks later than previous years:
  • 7 sites occupied last year but not this year (and one unoccupied for the first time in 17 years!)
  • 3 sites occupied but not breeding
  • 6 sites with chicks, but all small broods
  • 3 failed at the egg stage
  • 7 not occupied this year or last year
  • 2 sites occupied but outcome still unknown"
One of the non-breeding pairs from a Cornish nest box (Mark Grantham)

25 July 2013

The countdown is on!

At this time of year, ringers and nest recorders are very busy with their projects and study sites. The data collected forms an invaluable insight into the productivity and distribution of birds all over the UK and Ireland. The online ringing section of the BTO website shows a great selection of recoveries generated from all the ringing that has occurred since 1909 but news of another fantastic resource will soon be available.

Between 2007 and 2011 tens of thousands of volunteer birdwatchers, ringers and nest recorders recorded in the winter and breeding seasons for Bird Atlas 2007-11. All areas and habitats were covered, from villages, towns, farmland and fens to remote mountains and far-flung islands. This stock-take of our birds is already revealing fascinating changes in the status of our birds and will shape the direction of conservation action over the coming decades.

Breeding distribution of Spotted Flycatcher during the breeding-seasons of 2008 to 2011

The Bird Atlas will soon be available, but our special pre-publication offer ends at midnight on the 31st July! If you order before this and you'll only pay £45 (plus p&p), saving 35% on the RRP. After this, the book will be priced at £70. Be one of the first to receive Bird Atlas 2007-11, the most important British and Irish Bird Book for decades. It offers the most complete and comprehensive overview of bird distribution and change. With over 1,300 maps for nearly 300 species in one hardback volume, it's compiled from data collected by over 40,000 volunteer surveyors.

Order your copy and view sample pages here.

Spotted Flycatcher - Graham Austin

An interesting example of what can be learned can be seen with the BTO bird of the month - Spotted Flycatcher. Click here to learn more about its breeding distribution.