07 March 2016

Getting more from your birding

Here at the BTO we engage with countless local birders as well as ringers and nest recorders. A lot of important work is undertaken by birders across the length and breadth of Britain & Ireland. One such birder is Lee Collins who writes:

My local patch at Dawlish Warren NNR in South Devon has, over the last three years, achieved some amazing success in generating large numbers of field reads of gulls, terns and waders; my efforts over 2014 were summarized on the Demog blog in May 2015. I am not a ringer, in fact no ringing is currently done on the site (although some ringing was done previously), yet with a positive mind-set, high on-site attendance accompanied with bundles of enthusiasm, anyone can achieve amazing results with ring reading.

Dawlish Warren NNR is a coastal reserve with a  long and rich history in birding terms and I'm proud to have called this my local patch since 1984. On-site breeding of gulls, terns and waders is non-existent and thus ring reads are generally confined to the winter months, although the months of July and August do also provide a bumper opportunity with the onset of post breeding dispersal.

I have just finished writing a detailed 38 page article on my efforts over 2015. In total I've record 429 field reads, comprising 16 species and involving 219 different individuals. Here’s a brief resume of the highlights.

Dawlish Warren. Taken by Lee Collins

The standout single read was in securing my second ever Roseate Tern ring. This bird was ringed at Rockabill, Ireland in 2013 and the read may be the only recovery of this species in the Britain & Ireland during 2015 away from their breeding colonies. Terns are of particular interest to me and although no breeding occurs, I see good numbers of 200+ Sandwich Terns present during July and August. During this periods it is a hive of activity, with birds coming and going as they feed offshore and drop back in to roost or to feed their fledged young in front of the hide.

I made 61 reads during this nine week period, securing positive reads on 35 different individuals (30 adults and five juveniles). The reads were a combination of colour rings (15) and the more difficult to read metal ringed birds (20).

Frustratingly, not a single bird recorded on the site was to provide information on where they bred during 2015, although most probably nested several hundred kilometres away. Importantly, there is a good rate of multi-year observations of several individual birds recorded on-site during 2013 and 2014. The results suggest the Warren plays an important role as a staging and feeding area during post breeding dispersal.

Sandwich Tern taken by Lee Collins

The majority of Sandwich Tern ringing locations were in Scotland (750+ km away) and the Netherlands (600 km away), although others also range from Poland to Ireland. The Polish-ringed Sandwich Tern is particularly noteworthy as it looks to be the first recorded in Britain & Ireland.

Sanderling taken by Lee Collins

Waders are of particular importance and are abundant on the reserve. Sanderling in particular are of interest due to their long-distance migratory pattern and I found ten different colour ringed individuals during 2015. Most birds were seen during the month of May as they headed north to breeding grounds in Greenland. These birds were ringed in Greenland, Iceland or Mauritania.

Ringed Plover taken by Lee Collins

Ringed Plover is an abundant species in Devon, yet with a poor recovery history. I recorded seven in 2015, which is almost double the entire recovery history for the county. These were found during the autumn, presumably passage migrants dropping in to refuel. Unsurprisingly, a few were from Iceland, but several were from Norway and a one was from Germany.

Despite these impressive recoveries, my most important work is in fact dedicated to a species that receives little attention from practically all the birders that visit the site, the Oystercatcher. Over a three year period I have made almost 270 positive metal ring reads involving 116 different individuals, with 77 different birds recorded during 2015 alone.

The vast majority (91%) of these were ringed on-site, as part of a study programme undertaken between 1976 and 2004. The movements recorded may not be very far but this provides invaluable data on longevity and survival of this species, especially as it is now amber listed. I have recorded over a dozen individuals that were at least 25 years old, plus another that was ringed in 1983, making it at least 32 years old!

If you wish to read more, you can read Lee's full article on the Dawlish Warren blog.

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