31 March 2014

More on wandering Bearded Tits

Just over a year ago 'Demog Blog' reported on the bizarre occurrence of two ringed Bearded Tits seen in a tiny reedbed in Hyde Park, London (here). This was pretty unusual anyway, both birds having been ringed together at Rye Meads a couple of months previously, but the story now has an extra twist.

The two Bearded Tits in Hyde Park (Chris Hinton)
We have just heard that one of these birds, L511928, has turned up again, this time in southeast Norfolk! It was recaught at Belton Marshes in August 2013, a brackish reedbed site where plenty of Bearded Tits breed. As we noted back in the original post, Rye Meads don't catch many Bearded Tits, and coincidentally the prior to these birds being ringed, the last one caught (in February 2011) was a bird originally ringed at Haddiscoe Island, Norfolk, just a couple of kilometres from Belton Marshes!

The map below shows the locations of Rye Meads (blue) and the two sites L511928 visited (orange).

28 March 2014

Keeping Starlings under surveillance

Graham Martin, Worcestershire writes:

While local bird watchers have been marvelling at some spectacular murmurations of Starlings, my attention has been focused very closely on my local colony of about two dozen resident Starlings.

I have eleven boxes up around the garden and for the last five years, one has been rigged with a standard IR nest box camera. Ten of the boxes are now occupied and breeding has got underway very early this year, with the first egg laid on March 18th, in the camera nest box. According to BTO records, this is the 9th earliest date ever recorded for Starlings. It was 25 days earlier than the first egg that I observed in 2013.

Starling under surveillance - Graham Martin

One very interesting behaviour has been the male singing at full volume repeatedly from within the box. Given his mimicry this has meant that from my box I have had a succession of Buzzards, Chickens and Little Owls.

The first egg appeared and was duly noted on March 18th, but on the second day I switched the camera on at 06:00 and soon after watched as a bird entered the box, poked around a bit and then removed the egg. Fifteen minutes later a bird entered the box and showed more nesting behaviour until at about 10:00 another egg was laid. So the nest record now shows two successive days with one egg but because of what the video revealed, I know that this is in fact the second egg for the nest.

Starling - Terry Levitt

Just what is going is very difficult to say. Last year I also recorded two successive days with just one egg. At that time I assumed that the female had just interrupted laying for one day, but it could well have been that the first egg was also removed last year. Who took the egg? There are many options but it could be another female from one of the nearby nests helping herself to some ready nutrients or it could be a rival male trying to decrease someone else’s paternity.

I hope that this year, because of the early breeding and the mild and damp conditions, these starlings will be able to produce two broods, like last years camera box nest, but whether it was the same adults will remain a mystery.

19 March 2014

Fabulous phalaropes

With so few birds breeding in the UK and even fewer ringed, it's not surprising that we have only had a handful of Red-necked Phalarope recoveries and none of these have been abroad. Very little is known about the life of these tiny birds when they are away from their breeding grounds on Shetland and the Western Isles, but thanks to cutting-edge technology we are getting some extremely interesting insights.

Red-necked Phalarope - Edmund Fellowes

Tiny geolocators, which record the bird's position by a combination of light levels and time, were placed on 10 Red-necked Phalaropes as part of a collaboration between the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Shetland Ringing Group and the RSPB.

Red-necked Phalarope and its geolocator - Adam Rowlands

After successfully recapturing one of the tagged birds a year after ringing, its geolocator was removed and the information downloaded. This revealed an amazing 16,000 mile migration across the Atlantic into the Labrador Sea, then down the east coast of North America to Florida. This bird then crossed Mexico and remained east of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean for the winter. On its return in April it followed a similar but more southerly route back. This is the first time a European bird has been recorded taking this migration route.

Migration route of the tagged Red-necked Phalarope
The data gained from this one bird has revealed a wealth of information, not only of the migration route it took but also the timing of its migration and how long it remained at stop-overs. The project will continue to answer other questions including whether all of our breeding Red-necked Phalaropes take this migration route or do some birds join the Scandanavian population, and whether this route changes depending on the weather and local storms. This technology is improving very quickly so it won't be long before we know a lot more.

Thanks to David Okill for letting us know.

13 March 2014

Marsh Harriers strike out across Europe

Phil Littler and John Middleton (North West Norfolk Ringing Group) write:

On 5th February 2014, the first live British-ringed Marsh Harrier was sighted in Spain by Javier Elorriaga, along with Yeray Seminario, Juan Martin and Ramon Navarro. The wing-tagged male Marsh Harrier (BN - green pin on map below) was ringed as a nestling in North Norfolk on 3rd August 2013 by the North West Norfolk Ringing Group. This bird was seen at La Janda, near Cadiz, an area of flooded rice fields, which has a high concentration of Marsh Harriers in winter. It was then seen again on 8th February by Geoff Gowlett who sent us the photo below. BN was first seen by Alex Colorado on 9th December 2013 approximately four kilometers from the latest observations.

Male Marsh Harrier BN. The sex was determined using the Dutch foot span measurement method, which this Norfolk project have championed in the UK (c) Geoff Gowlett
Prior to this only two British-ringed Marsh Harriers had been recovered in Spain; one ringed in Lincolnshire and the other in Suffolk, both found dead in 1991.

Subsequently, we received a report of a second Marsh Harrier (LB - red pin on map below) from Suffolk that had been wing-tagged in the same project. It was seen by Juan M Perez-Garcia on 13th Januar 2014 at Parc Natural El Hondo, Spain, a site that is both a RAMSAR site and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.

Previously, on Christmas Day 2012, a report came in of a wing tagged bird near Lisbon, Portugal (AP - yellow pin on map above). This represented the first live sighting of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Portugal, and only the second ever recovered there.

AP, a female, was ringed in July 2011 at Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk, and was seen near Aerodromo de Leziria, a small airfield used for aerial crop spraying of the extensive rice fields in the area. We know this female survived its return migration because in April 2013, she was photographed coming in off the North Sea at Spurn, Humberside.

On 11th December 2013 Green DX, ringed in June 2013 near Haddiscoe, was reported from Belgium by Frank van de Velde who photographed it at De Blankaart Nature Reserve, another first for a British-ringed harrier to Belgium.

DX with it's new wing tags - by Alison Allen
Marsh Harrier DX - by Frank Van de Velde
Unconfirmed, but 99% sure, was a distant sighting in Senegal on 24th January 2013 by a French Ornithologist Jean Francois Blanc who was studying Montagu's Harriers. He saw a green wing-tagged Marsh Harrier who thought that the markings were black OO. This was rather disappointing as OO has not been used but CC has; was it that bird? It would have been the first recovery of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Senegal. Jean also observed two Belgian wing-tagged birds.

Not only exciting foreign recoveries were being received, but Marsh Harriers that had been wing tagged in this collaborative project were also being reported from as far as the Loch of Strathbeg near Aberdeen, to the Dale Peninsula in Wales, Burton Mere in Cheshire and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

More details about the Norfolk wing tagging project can be found here.

06 March 2014

The wreck continues...

The storms battering western Europe may have abated somewhat, but the number of birds washing up on beaches across Spain, France, Ireland and Britain have not. There is usually a delay in the number of birds washing up after such events, but we are still hearing about large numbers of auks, Puffins and Shags on beaches.

We previously posted about the number of Puffins being found in France, but in he last week birds have been turning up along the west coast of Ireland and Britain. Statements such as "I found this ringed bird among 148 dead puffins on 900 meters of beach" are sadly common place.

Winter-plumaged Puffin
Gunwalloe Fishing Cove, Cornwall (Mark Grantham)
The number of ringed birds reported now stands at:
  • 124 Puffin
  • 104 Guillemot
  • 98 Razorbill
  • 75 Shag
  • 7 Gannet
  • 4 Black Guillemot
For the time of year, these are record numbers of both Guillemot and Puffin. Looking back at January/February recoveries of these birds, we can see just how unprecedented this current event is.

Number of Jan/Feb ring recoveries of Puffin
Number of Jan/Feb ring recoveries of Razorbill
Number of Jan/Feb ring recoveries of Guillemot

This will be a small fraction of the total amount of birds that have died (now well over 28,000 birds) but these ringed birds do tell us something about the birds affected. Many of the Puffins are from sites including Sule Skerry (40km west of Orkney), the Shiant Islands (Outer Hebridies), the Treshnish Islands (near the Isle of Mull), Great Saltee (off Co Wexford) and Skomer Island (Pembrokeshire).

Razorbill M91165 was ringed as a chick on Sanda Island in 1997.
It was one of 40 birds found at Watergate Bay, Cornwall,
on Valentine’s Day. © Newquay Beach Care

03 March 2014

Let the nesters... nest!

During the winter months, nest recorders (known as nesters) all around the country are eagerly waiting the first signs of spring. Some start in February when pigeons, Ravens and Cormorants are starting to breed. We have posted previously on nesting Tawny Owls, some of which would have left their nest by now, but spring is really here when we receive our first reports of our garden birds nesting.

While walking through Thetford, Norfolk last Friday on a cold and dreary morning, I came across two Blackbirds fledglings being fed by their parents (below). They had been seen earlier in the week and by now had become very obvious. The eggs of this brood must have been laid in January as they were reasonably well developed but still very reliant on their parents. Unfortunately during my lunch break today, I found one of these fledglings on the road, after being struck by a car but the other one is still alive and well.

First Thetford Blackbirds of the season - Lee Barber

Another classic garden bird is the Robin. In the BTO grounds they are usually very elusive but after seeing a Robin in the same place on Thursday, Friday and today, I can finally confirm that another BTO nest is underway with a part built nest.

We will of course be following the progress of these two 'nests', and we will add many many more during the season. We will shortly be out looking for Long-tailed Tit nests while they are building their domed lichen nest, but if you have never recorded a nest before, get in touch with us at the NRS website and join us with our notebooks and nesting sticks.