15 May 2015

Old friends welcome in the new CES season

We recently received the following fascinating account of the first CES visit of the year at Foxglove Covert, Catterick, Yorkshire. The first CES visit period of 2015 is now over and we are already hearing stories of how long-term ringing projects can help us learn more about the productivity, abundance and survival of birds in Britain & Ireland.

Tony Crease writes:

The weather plays a major part in any CES day and the start of the season this year was looking as ominous as ever, so much so that juggling the days of the Bank Holiday became an inevitability. With a CES of ten and a half hours, a day of virtual calm is essential.

Monday provided the window of opportunity and 12 ringers from the Swaledale Group turned out for visit 1 of our 23rd CES season. With trees still without leaves after the recent very cold weather, the usually lush habitat was less than ideal for hiding the nets. Nevertheless, we had an interesting day catching 204 birds of 25 species. The first Blackcap and Garden Warbler of the year were processed as well as 29 Bullfinches, 23 Willow Warblers and many of our routinely resident species. What was entirely unexpected was the age structure of the birds, some of which we find are surprisingly long lived.

An incredible 29 Bullfinches were ringed during the session! Photo: John Harding

Among the more common species we processed was a four year old Chiffchaff, Chaffinches that were four and six years old respectively and six Blue Tits from four to eight years old. Even more fascinating was a pair of Willow Tits; the female, who had a large brood patch, had been ringed on the reserve as a juvenile on 9 August 2007 and had been caught every year since – a total of 37 times in all!

As if that wasn't compensation enough for our very early start, to our complete amazement there then followed R084872, a Marsh Tit which had been ringed as a juvenile in the reserve on 10 July 2004. This bird, we believe, must now hold the British & Irish longevity record for that species*; it has been re-trapped 42 times and has been recorded at Foxglove Covert every year since except 2010 and 2013.

The red-listed Marsh Tit is a regular visitor to Foxglove Covert CE site.
Photo by Tom Wallis

Increasingly, we are finding more results like these with several passerines, including Blackbirds, quite often living five years or more. It is a compelling aspect of our ringing activities and one that has improved so much with the introduction of IPMR. We load the birds as we ring them so information on original ringing data is readily available.

While visiting our Tawny Owl boxes recently we found one bird that had been breeding in the same next box for 16 years. It is an intriguing subject and one that continually delivers surprises. Life is full of the unexpected and our feathered friends in and around Catterick provide many thought-provoking examples.

* Note from the editors - the online longevity records will be updated in June / July to include data from 2014. Until then, we are unable to confirm whether this is a new record for this species. Watch this space...

11 May 2015

Exemplary patch working

Local birder Lee Collins writes:

Dawlish Warren is a 1½ mile long sand spit at the mouth of the River Exe in south Devon and is an important roost site for thousands of wintering and passage waterbirds of the Exe Estuary SPA. It has an impressive list of rare vagrants that include- Long-billed Murrelet, Elegant Tern, Short-toed Eagle and Semi-palmated Plover.

However, the patch-workers on site aren't confined to purely finding rare birds; with the benefit of a well positioned hide a dedicated band of regular recorders at Dawlish Warren submit to the BTO and county recorders in excess of 7,000 counts per annum and have developed a growing interest in finding and recording ringed birds in the field. 

With no current ringing on site, all recoveries from recent years have been achieved only by using our optics and a keen eye. In 2014 alone the recording group amassed an incredible 398 reads of 192 individuals, something few sites in the whole of the UK can match.

Recent observations have yielded some important and interesting recoveries with birds ringed from 24 different countries, including Ghana, Mauritania, Greenland, Iceland and Russia, whilst others have had a well-travelled history taking in Namibia and South Africa. 

Common Tern, Dawlish Warren, 29th Aug 2014, darvic ringed at Saltholme, Lee Collins

Notable finds include the first Devon recovery of Little Tern (from Dublin) and the first live Roseate Tern (from Coquet Island, off Northumberland). Common Tern (Saltholme in Teeside & Dublin) and Grey Plover (from Spain & Norway), although common species, hadn't had a Devon recovery in 25 and 50 years respectively. Both the Grey Plovers are notable as being the first Spanish & Norwegian controls of this species in Britain or Ireland, a feat the Recording Group also achieved for a Spanish Spoonbill.

Colour-ringed ‘Sanderblings’ as they've now become known are also a definite highlight and we've recorded 18 in just a few short years. Most have been from ringing schemes from their breeding grounds in Greenland and wintering grounds in West Africa (Ghana & Mauritania), with one of our recoveries also observed in Namibia. This species certainly has a breath-taking migratory pattern.

Sanderling, Dawlish Warren, 20th Jul 2009, Ghanian ringed, Lee Collins

The results of reading rings in the field has also established useful site fidelity and longevity data, in wintering species such as Brent Geese, Shelduck and more specifically Oystercatchers, with five of our Oystercatcher reads being individuals 24 years old or older. One faithful Great Black-backed Gull, from south Cornwall, has to date been read 49 times over a 31 month period on site and another Great Black-backed Gull was seven months from beating the oldest one on record (our Great Black-backed Gull was ringed on the Channel Islands in 1990. Another great gull sighting was the first Lituanian ringed Herring Gull in the UK as well (below).

Herring Gull (Argentatus), Dawlish Warren, 31st Dec 2014, Lithuanian ringed, Lee Collins

Since May 2004, the Dawlish Warren website has been updated daily with latest bird and wildlife news and regularly carries news on the latest recoveries. Annual reports (2013 & 2014) on Warren ring recoveries are available for 2013 and 2014 in pdf format.

Ringed Plover, Dawlish Warren, 4th Oct 2014, Norwegian ringed, Lee Collins

It’s very much hoped that our hard work and dedication in finding and documenting such records can rub off on others, as such endeavours serve a useful cause and can be extremely rewarding.

We’d also like to thank the BTO and various ringers for their invaluable help over the last few years.