Friday, 6 July 2018

Sandwich Terns 2018

The Inch Island (Donegal) Sandwich Tern season has been and gone already and it hasn't quite gone to plan. Signs were looking good following the important habitat work carried out by Ken, Richard B with Lee and Martin from NPWS to clear some of the dense vegetation and fill gaps in gabions. The result was a count of 266 breeding pairs of Sandwich Terns with a total of 404 eggs on the 8th of May. Half the colony was noted to have relocated to the lower shore and away from the raised part of the islet where they normally breed, which was a bit of concern with the possibility of high tides flooding the nests.
Difficult weather and the tides resulted in some chops and changes and cancellations with our planned visits and we ended up with just a single ringing visit. 2018 was to the be the first year of a colour ringing project and we had everything purchased and in place but a miscommunication meant that the colour rings were left behind for the ringing visit.

The ringing visit took place on the 21st June with myself, John, Ken, Gary, Lee and Martin present. On landing on the island it was clear that the storm the week previous had a big impact with lots of dead chicks and dried eggs along the shore, the Black-headed Gulls were particularly affected. It was evident that a number of the Sandwich Terns had fledged with small gatherings at either end of the islet with perhaps 50+ fledged already. We located and ringed a total of 92 chicks in and around the nest sites and managed to catch a further 8 of the semi-fledged birds. There looked to be some more recent nests in a new area and with any luck these eggs will have hatched in the fantastic weather - perhaps too nice!

The Common Terns usually lay a few weeks later than the Sandwich Terns with perhaps 20-25 nests located. All but a couple of nests with 1/2 day old chicks were with eggs and none will be ringed this year. A handful of large Black-headed Gulls were ringed.

Given the reduced catch, only 45 minutes on the islet and the number of large chicks it would have been the perfect opportunity to begin colour ringing. It is a bit of a set back but there is always next year... Metal rings, as they always have done, do still produce recoveries including this bird below which was very slow in coming through but had its ring read in Germany July 2016.

The bird was ringed as a chick on Croaghan Islet in Mulroy Bay, Donegal on the 4th of June 2007 and recovered at Nordfriesisches Wattenmeer Nature Reserve on the 01st July 2016. The nature reserve lies within the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park on North Sea coast of Germnay, a distance of 1039km from Donegal. This bird will have easily travelled 50,000+ kilometres in it's life time. 

Nordfriesisches Wattenmeer Nature Reserve

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Cannon Netting Barnacle Geese

John and I set off at 5am in the morning to north Donegal at Trawbreaga Bay to join a large group of ringers and helpers in the hopes of catch some of the wintering Barnacle Geese. The aim was to colour ring a number of Barnacle Geese as part of a larger study of the Greenland breeding population. The species has also colonised southern Iceland and increasing in numbers. Thousands of Barnacle Geese winter in North-western and western Ireland including Sligo and in this area of Donegal. Exeter University lead on many of the studies of geese in the UK and Ireland and were on hand with others from all over Ireland including Kerry, Wexford and other spots. Kendrew of the RSPB NI will be handling and processing all subsequent resightings of the colour ringed birds.

Barnacle Goose
The site had been baited and watched for a week prior and up to 1200 Barnacle Geese have been visiting the fields and walking in and around the dummy nets. That morning we sat in wait as the Geese started arriving for a morning feed having roosted on one of the small offshore islands. They were appearing in groups of 5-50 before the main flock appeared with almost 500 birds taking us to 900+ in the field. We were restricted to 200 metal and colour rings and that was the rough aim with the large team of 27 people in place to deal with them. Around 200 birds had been captured by the net but a portion managed to slip out before the team arrived to extract the birds.


 Releasing the first processed birds
At the end of play, still in the morning, round 155 birds were processed with 5/6 birds having been caught previously. All birds were colour ringed with biometrics and feather samples taken. It was a great experience with much learned and we were very impressed by the efficient catch, process and release of such a number of large birds. 

Winter Scrub Ringing & Patch Birding

We have made two more visits to Castlerock Golf Club in the Bann Estuary since the last visit on the 7th of January. The Fieldfare numbers increased massively during the cold weather with 800+ birds there, joined by 150+ Redwing and a number of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.


The conditions were a little restrictive on the first visit and produced just six new birds and two retraps and no Fieldfare caught.
On the second visit the numbers had dropped significantly to perhaps 150 Fieldfares with the Sea Buckthorn berries having been depleted to only a few hundred from what were once millions.
Yet again the Fieldfares eluded us and we had to make do with 12 new birds including a Redwing and winter Blackcap.


 Castlerock Ringing Totals - 04/02 & 04/03/2018
                      New    Retrap
Blackbird               4              1
Blackcap               1
Bullfinch                2              1      
Dunnock                2
Goldcrest               1              2
Greenfinch             1           
Redwing                 1
Robin                      1
Song Thrush          5             1

Totals                    18            5      

On my last update about my Patch Birding in the Bann Estuary on the 11th of January I was sitting on 58 species for the year. As of this morning I have flipped that number and hit 85 before the arrival of the summer migrants.
I've added two new species to my full patch list with a nice drake Goosander and a few sightings of Glaucous Gull.


Glaucous Gull

Iceland Gulls have been regular with at least four different individuals including a nice 3rd winter/adult bird and two present on a number of visits. Other nice records locally have included Purple Sandpiper, a winter Blackcap and a pair of Shoveler  A Greenshank yesterday followed up with a Great Crested Grebe today and a Collared Dove which can be hard to get on the patch, took me to 7 ahead of this stage last year.

A bit of birding in the hills this afternoon produced my first Red Grouse of the year plus a pair of Hen Harrier which are always fantastic to see, taking my Northern Irish year total to 114 species (+ Barnacle Goose in the south).

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Siskins and Garden Ringing

Ken has been back in action in the garden since mid-February, ably assisted by John and James. Over the handful of sessions over 200 birds have been processed with nice numbers of Siskins and a couple of winter Blackcaps - Goldfinches continue to be noticeable in their near absence.


Kens Garden - February/Early March

Blackbird               3             
Blackcap                1
Blue Tit                  40              
Chaffinch               6              
Coal Tit                  54              
Dunnock                2
Goldfinch               11                             
Great Tit                 15
Greenfinch              2              
Long-tailed Tit        4              
Robin                      15              
Siskin                     37                

Totals                     190                  

Those totals were topped up this morning with another 32 birds processed including another 6 Siskin and a Blackcap.
I opened a net in my new garden for the first time to catch some of the visiting Siskins and have added a further 9.

One of the Siskins caught by Ken last month was a control and it was rather nice recovery at that. The adult male bird was originally ringed at Cape Clear Bird Observatory on the 26th of October 2017 and trapped 117 days later. The distance is about as long as can get within Ireland at 454 km.

Representing Copeland Bird Observatory

I'm playing catch up as per usual so just some quick fire updates. There have been a couple more Copeland Bird Observatory winter training events at the usual spot. Numbers were pretty normal with the usual feeder species mix plus a bit of colour with some Bullfinches.
We were also present at a province wide nature day in Ballynure to help promote the Observatory. It was a great event with lots of people in attendance and hopefully what will turn out to be new visitors and supporters of the Observatory.



Friday, 12 January 2018

2017 Group Ringing Totals

In 2017 we finished on a total of 1832 new birds and 286 retraps. We processed c800 birds less than last year with a few hundred less Sandwich Tern pulli, no Swallow roost catches, less Stomies & waders, c600 less tits and finches with basically no garden ringing and no ringing in Nov & Dec. Much higher numbers of Sand Martins and Sedge Warblers brought totals back up a bit.

Species Name          
Black-headed Gull       - 10 (1)
Black-tailed Godwit   - 2 (0)
Blackbird                       - 51 (14)
Blackcap                        - 62 (3)
Blue Tit                      - 162 (29)
Bullfinch                        - 31 (17)
Chaffinch                       - 52 (2)
Chiffchaff                       - 9 (0)
Coal Tit                        - 31 (6)
Common Gull                - 38 (0)
Common Tern                - 2 (0)
Curlew                        - 2  (0)
Dipper                            - 14 (3)
Dunlin                        - 2 (0)
Dunnock                       - 51 (26)
Garden Warbler             - 1 (0)
Goldcrest                      - 58 (15)
Goldfinch                       - 24 (1)
Grasshopper Warbler    - 1 (0)
Great Tit                      - 99 (27)
Grey Wagtail                 - 1 (0)
Greenfinch               - 4 (0)
House Martin               - 1 (0)
House Sparrow       - 6 (1)
Kingfisher               - 4 (0)
Lesser Redpoll       - 8 (0)
Linnet                      - 83 (1)
Long-tailed Tit             - 15 (3)
Magpie                       - 3 (2)
Meadow Pipit              - 54 (2)
Redshank               - 6 (0)
Redwing                       - 1 (0)
Reed Bunting             - 34 (2)
Reed Warbler             - 30 (0)
Robin                     - 58 (19)
Rock Pipit                   - 16 (0)
Sand Martin           - 327 (77)
Sandwich Tern          - 139 (0)
Sedge Warbler    - 152 (4)
Song Thrush             - 29 (1)
Sparrowhawk               - 1 (0)
Starling                       - 2 (0)
Stonechat              - 12 (2)
Storm Petrel             - 44 (4)
Swallow                       - 3 (0)
Tree Sparrow               - 1 (0)
Treecreeper               - 1 (0)
Wheatear                     - 1 (0)
Whitethroat               - 1 (0)
Willow Warbler             - 45 (14)
Wren                           - 47 (10)
Yellowhammer             - 1 (0)

                                    1832 (286)   

At this time I don't see much change in the activities through the year so will be expecting something similar at this stage next year. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Turn of the year - 2017/2018

It has become a reoccurring theme that on recent posts I begin with an apology for the lack of updates and again I'm a week shy of two months without a post, so....sorry!

We have been pretty idle on the North Coast and haven't done any ringing since our last visit to Portstewart Strand on the 27th of October through issues of weather, free time and the others cooped up indoors with a three week bug.

John and I finally got back into action on the Sunday the 7th with a the first visit to Castlerock since last February. The Sea Buckthorn scrub and the millions of berries have been absolutely bubbling with birds since the end of autumn and we had been itching to make our first visit. It was a cold start at 07.30 - -3°C, crystal clear skies, still and a hard frost which we thought we would be perfect to entice the ground feeding winter thrushes from further afield. Throughout the winter I had only noticed around a dozen Fieldfares amongst the scrub daily but we called the weather correct and many more appeared with c75 plus c50 Redwings, which aren't regular.


We did try our various tapes to try and lure them into the nets but were absolutely unsuccessful and only caught two Redwings which were caught before the tapes - even the infamous 'Latvian love song' failed. We are restricted with the placement of our nets to the bottom of the hollow and generally the thrushes stick to the bushes on the safer higher slopes so we need to think up a new plan to catch them. There were also decent numbers of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes but only caught two of the former.

Our nets are all along the bottom centre of the scrub but thrushes prefer areas to the left

The thrushes aren't the only interest at the site but also the finches. These days Castlerock is about the only site where we encounter Greenfinches and another 6 caught today was nice. As with recent winters there is a healthy population of Bullfinches with probably 15-20+ and another three were trapped. Chaffinch numbers were a quarter of what they normally are with perhaps a dozen about. We finished with a nice mixed catch of 24 new birds of 9 species.


Castlerock Ringing Totals - 07/01/2018

Blue Tit                  4
Bullfinch                3     
Chaffinch               2            
Goldcrest               1
Greenfinch             6           
Redwing                 2
Robin                     3
Song Thrush          2
Wren                       1

Totals                    24      

The second Copeland Bird Observatory winter training session took place back on the 17th of December with seven in attendance all together. The forecast had been looking pretty ropey but the rain stopped just before arrival and started as we slipped onto the motorway home so it worked out great. 

It was much quieter this time out with the wild bird seed field being less productive with only six each of Chaffinch and Linnet compared to the last visits 22 and 29! Like this period last year the Blackbirds descended on the apple trees but we didn't match the catch of  21 new birds but 12 in one session is still great. Another winter Blackcap is nice catch and going by reports across Ireland this year they are increasing rapidly or simply visiting feeders more!  


Antrim Ringing Totals - 17/12/2017
                             New       Retraps

Blackbird              12              1
Blackcap                1
Blue Tit                  3              2
Chaffinch               4              2
Coal Tit                  6              3
Dunnock                2              
Goldcrest                                1
Great Tit                 2               6
Lesser Redpoll      1
Linnet                    5              1
Long-tailed Tit      3              2
Robin                     1              2
Wren                                      1

Totals                   40             21         

Earlier this week I had nipped across to the local retail park and noticed a large number of Pied Wagtails sprawled across the car park so I decided to watch them for a while. I've seen them here before when visiting the Supermarket across the park but never in such numbers and wasn't sure where they roost. I arrived at the right time as I was able to watch them go in to roost and estimated there to be around 250 birds. 
Where they roost looks quite difficult to set nets and there is a 30 foot vertical drop over the hedge so it will take a little bit of ingenuity but we are going to give it a go if we get a chance. Given the sheer numbers, some must be travelling quite a distance so it will be interesting to see if we can produce any results.

72 Pied Wagtails after the main portion had entered the roost

With the turn of the years starts a new season of the Patchwork Challenge. Last year I finished with a total of 130 species which was seven species up on 2016 and gave a score of 164 points. In my Coastal Irish League I finished fifth on points but had the second most species recorded. In the comparative score league I finished third. My CBO patch didn't get as much attention as I had hoped with only 5/6 visits but I achieved an encouraging 81 species and a score of 101 and finished fourth in the comparative league.

I've kicked off the 2018 list and recorded 58 species so far including two which I didn't get until October last year, Great Northern Diver and Redwing. I've set myself a high-bar but with equal effort and a bit of luck I could better it!

Phone/Binocular record shot of one of two Great Northern Divers on the 7th