03 December 2019

Moroccan farewell to a long-distance Peregrine

Ed Drewitt and Luke Sutton write:

For the past 21 years, Ed Drewitt has been studying urban-dwelling Peregrines around the Bristol area, in particular what they eat. His prey studies have revealed that not only do urban Peregrines eat a huge range of species in Britain (over 100) they also hunt at night catching nocturnally migrating birds such as Woodcock, Snipe, Teal, Moorhen and even Corncrake and Spotted Crake. During this period Peregrines have extended their range across southern England and can now be found nesting in most cities and large towns in this region.

Juvenile Peregrines blue RX and RY, RZ. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

Since 2007, Ed alongside Luke Sutton, Hamish Smith, Seb Loram and Jason Fathers have been fitting blue colour rings to Peregrines across the west of the country from Bristol to Devon, ringing over 200 Peregrine chicks. They have received information on 55 of these birds, some of which were dead, others alive and well. Over this time the team have also submitted over 160 nest records for Peregrines, tracking both the highs and lows of their breeding attempts.

Peregrine blue RY being ringed. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

One bird AA, the first the team ringed, is still the breeding male in Bath where he hatched and is now over 12 years old. Most recoveries (47 in total) are what we would expect, with females travelling further than males, and only 7% travelling further than 200 kilometres. It was therefore to the team’s surprise that blue RY, ringed on the 30 May 2019 in Taunton, Somerset, was found dead in early November in Tiznit, Morocco (2,435km over 155 days). He was hit by a vehicle. This is the first British-ringed Peregrine to make it to mainland Africa, beaten only by one that made it slightly further south to the Canary Island of Lanzorote.

Peregrine blue RY taking to the skies. Photo taken by Robin Morrison.

While Peregrines from northern Europe, such as Finnish Lapland, sometimes make it to northern Africa, this remarkable recovery illustrates the species' ability to travel long distances, which is does regularly from North America to Central and South America, and northern Russia to the Middle East. However, British-hatched Peregrines generally stay within the Britain or hop modest distances over to Belgium, France or the Netherlands.

04 April 2019

Thermal tech lightens the darkest nights

Ben Dolan writes:

In Spring 2017, we were privileged enough to be invited by the BTO to write an article for Issue 5, Spring 2017, LifeCycle magazine on the use of thermal imaging to monitor and ring birds ‘Thermal Birding’. This followed a successful trial, using it to find and ring lapwing pulli, and then using it whilst dazzling, which was a game changer in this area of ringing for us.

Woodcock found by the use of the thermal imagining device. Photo by Ben Dolan

At the time we were using the Pulsar XQ50S; we now use the Pulsar Helion XQ38F with streaming and recording facility.

Since the article was published we have been contacted by many BTO ringers, ringers from Europe and a couple further afield and have had some great feedback that using the device has reduced disturbance, made time more productive, made it easier to carry out bird counts, that surveying wildlife has never been easier and that people have had some first records for their sites using this method.



The view through the thermal imager, catching a Woodcock. Photo by Ben Dolan

Many ringers now own these thermal units and we have had the pleasure of hosting a number of ringers at our sites, as well as visiting theirs, and sharing knowledge which has been a great experience and has helped build new friendships and useful contacts.

The thermal imager is a fantastic tool for bird ringing, finding nests and monitoring nest boxes but it is also great for general wildlife surveys, whether it is hares, badgers, bats, moths and more.

Hedgehog. Photo by Ben Dolan

We look forward to continuing to share our experiences with others and hope they have as much success with the equipment as we have had, with some equally surprising records.

To keep up to date with what we do please follow us on twitter @ringerswm or for our thermal technique guide, visit our website www.westmidlandsringinggroup.co.uk

05 March 2019

Crappy place to ring

Matt Prior writes:

You wouldn’t normally think of sewage treatment sites as wildlife havens but they are often sought out by bird ringers because they are indeed very attractive to birds. A particular treatment process, percolating filters, are rich with fly larvae, worms and snails that graze on the bacteria that treat the sewage. Sewage works are particularly beneficial to birds in the winter providing an insect food source during cold weather because the filters rarely freeze due to the warmth of the sewage. Accessing such sites is difficult and requires robust risk assessments and method statements and ringers have to take the unusual steps to wear full personal protective equipment including hard hats and high visibility clothing.

Sewage treatment works in the snow. Photo by Lee Barber

Grey Wagtails are present at most sewage works; ringing studies have shown that many breed and are resident. In the winter Grey Wagtail numbers increase, presumably from birds originating in upland areas and we have seen that with a bird ringed as a nestling in the Welsh mountains that was retrapped at Marlborough sewage works in the winter. In March, we ringed a Grey Wagtail at Marlborough sewage works and this bird was retrapped by a ringer in Belgium in June. This is the first example of a BTO ringed Grey Wagtail to be recovered in Belgium. We contacted the Belgian ringer and he recorded it as a male and thinks it was breeding nearby.

Some years ago, a Grey Wagtail was retrapped at Calne sewage works that was originally ringed in Denmark so ringing shows that our wintering Grey Wagtails come from the continent as well as from Britain or Ireland. In addition to mapping movements, bird ringing can provide information about survival and on 4 December 2016 we retrapped a Grey Wagtail that we originally ringed on 23 January 2010 making it 6 years 10 months 19 days old; just short of the BTO longevity record.

Grey Wagtail. Phone by Lee Barber

Sewage works are also very attractive to Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. Meadow Pipits have shown some level of winter site fidelity at Marlborough sewage works with many retrapped in subsequent winters and some returning for up to five years but we haven’t yet learnt where they are breeding.

Pied Wagtail. Photo by Lee Barber

Chiffchaffs are another bird that are now strongly associated with sewage works. Thousands now winter across the UK and sewage works are definitely the most popular site for them. Birdwatchers seek out these sites to look for Chiffchaffs in the hope of finding a browner looking one that is Siberian Chiffchaff. If we retrap one originally ringed on its breeding grounds that really would be exciting. Personally I have not been that lucky but I have retrapped a Chiffchaff that had originally been ringed in Belgium. We will continue to monitor birds on sewage works and who knows what we will learn next.