Sunday, 2 December 2018

New French Sedge Warbler

A bit of a late arrival after 15+ months but a very welcome recovery all the same. As I mentioned in a previous post, we were amazed that none of our Lough Neagh warblers were recovered on the way south in 2017 but it turns out there was at least one.
The aforementioned bird was a juvenile Sedge Warbler which we ringed on the 16th of July 2017 which was retrapped 27 days later near Genêts, in NW France at a minimum distance of 745km.
This recovery highlights how early some of our young Sedge Warblers head south and helps build the picture of the movements of these birds from Lough Neagh - hopefully plenty more to come.

Sedge Warbler - Lough Neagh to Genêts, France

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Castlerock Golf Club 24/11/2018 & Scottish Chaffinch

On Saturday morning John and I shifted out attentions to the west shore of the Bann Estuary and made our first visit to Castlerock Golf Club of the winter. As you regular readers will know, this is somewhat similar habitat to that of Portstewart Strand but much smaller in area and all the Sea Buckthorn plants are female meaning they produce millions of berries and attract some large numbers of thrushes and finches, but generally in late winter.


As we hadn't been to the site since the 7th of January at the start of the year the net rides needed to be cleared of the brambles, nettles and quite a bit of cutting back of fallen bushes and branches. We tackled the easy ride first and had the first 18 metres net up and catching within 20 minutes and had the second 12m ride up and running in another 20 minutes. The nets started to catch a few birds so our progress in the other rides was slowed and we didn't quite get finished but did get another 24m cleared with another 18m to go. The session was cut short because of a very unfortunate discovery  on the receding tide.

The location of our nets generally follow the bottom of the hollow of the main stand of Sea Buckthorn but this tends not to be the best place to intercept the thrushes which stick to the higher bushes on the slopes - we had up to 600 Fieldfare feeding amongst the scrub last winter and we only caught one! At the same time we probably had a mixed flock of up to 175 Redwing, Blackbirds & Song Thrush and again only caught three, six and seven respectively. We are eyeing up new potential net rides which might rectify this a bit but working with the steep slopes and avoiding flying golf balls isn't easy!

A net full of Chaffinches & a couple of Blue Tits


From the two nets in a couple of hours we caught 18 new birds and controlled a female Chaffinch with a BTO ring. There were only 6 Fieldfare present and again they avoided the nets.

Castlerock Golf Club 24th November 2018

                          New          Control
Blue Tit               2
Bullfinch             4
Chaffinch            8                   1
Dunnock             1
Robin                  1
Song Thrush       2

Total                 18                   1         


The new BTO system means that you receive details of controls within a few days, subject to them being uploaded by the other ringer.
This controlled Chaffinch was ringed at Drummond, Inverness on the 17th of September 2018 and controlled by us 68 days later at a minimum distance of 298km. This is our second control Chaffinch for the Bann Estuary with the last bird also coming from the Highlands of Scotland near Shielfoot (marked below) in a very similar movement. She was quite a large winged lady so possibly a Scandinavian moving through Scotland.

Chaffinch from Inverness to Castlerock








Friday, 23 November 2018

Acro Warblers on Lough Neagh 2018

After our exploratory visits to our new site on the west shore of Lough Neagh in 2017 we were full of anticipation to get back in amongst the reeds this summer.

In 2017 we made two visits to the site producing 197 birds with 30 Reed Warblers, 121 Sedge Warblers, 17 Blackcaps, 10 Willow Warbler, 1 Sparrowhawk 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Wren, 2 Blue Tit and 6 Reed Buntings (which seems rather strange after 2018).

To refresh your minds on last years visits, please follow the links below:




Reed Warbler

The total of 30 Reed Warblers was massive in an Irish and Northern Irish context given that the average catch of the species in NI between 2007-2016 was 3 birds per year and that there hadn't been more than 4 Reed Warblers caught in one year in the initial nine years before 17 in 2016. In the south they have averaged around 25 birds per year for the past 10 years. Certainly for the north, much of the change is down to effort and increased ringing around Lough Neagh once again - in 2015 there was no ringing in the area, one site in 2016, two sites in 2017 and two in 2018. In 2019 we should see this number climb further with certainly three, possibly four sites up and running, including two Constant Effort Sites with Portmore Lough being brought back into action after decades of no ringing - this site has produced over 1000 Sedge Warblers in certain years in the past and 1/2 Reed Warblers when they were much rarer back in the 1970's/1980's.




In 2018 we made three visits to the site on the 22nd of July, 11th of August and the final visit on the 25th of August producing 126 new birds (+2 controls), 182 new birds and 165 new birds respectively. Sedge Warbler numbers were pretty consistent across the three visits with 98, 97 & 84 respectively with Reed Warblers increasing across each with 10, 12 and 19. 

On the third visit there were noticeable gatherings of hirudines (and Swifts) feeding over the reedbeds and wet woodland so once the deluge of Acrocephalus (acros) warblers had subsided we had a go at tape luring some, successfully catching 15 Swallows and 3 Sand Martins with many more landing on top of the nets and poles and avoiding capture in the bright sunshine. I've never visited the Lough in the evening or at night but undoubtedly there must be some massive hirudine roosts forming all around the lough in autumn and our site seems better than most for potential habitat.
Through lack of extra hands we still haven't fully explored the potential of the backing wet woodlands but we did catch 26 Blackcap, 19 Willow Warbler and 4 Chiffchaff in short spells but a concerted effort would produce much more and perhaps a secret pair of Garden Warbler - the habitat is perfect (we may have as few as 50 breeding pairs in Ireland, generally around the Lakelands of Fermanagh, Leitrim, Roscommon and Cavan).


The combined totals of the three visits were:
Blackcap                      26
Chiffchaff                      4
Reed Bunting              83 (2)
Reed Warbler              41 [1 NW England control]
Robin                            2
Sand Martin                  3
Sedge Warbler            279 (1) [1 French control]
Swallow                        15
Willow Warbler            19
Wren                             1

Total                            473 (3) [2]


Reed Bunting

The biggest surprise of the year was the numbers of Reed Bunting around and the number caught. On the second visit an incredible 53 were caught (for not being a roost catch this is spectacular), an impressive 21 on visit three and a very decent 9 on visit one. Given that we only caught 6 in both visits combined in 2017 this is a massive change and 2019 might let us know what is normal! 


Having gone through the first autumn migration without a recovery from the 180 ringed warblers we were really quite surprised, particularly for Sedge Warblers which are readily controlled in the habitats they stopover in on migration. We were then even more surprised that we avoided any recoveries on the return journey north. 
The first visit of the season produced the goods with two controls, a very nice French ringed Sedge Warbler and a BTO ringed Reed Warbler which was even better in our minds! The Reed Warbler had been ringed at Middleton nature Reserve at Heysham Bird Observatory in Lancashire. Interestingly one of the ringers there, Pete Marsh, used to ring on our stomping grounds in the Bann Estuary back in the early 1970's and he reported that the Reed Warbler had arrived in a fall, including birds ringed elsewhere with 2 Sedge Warblers ringed in France and another in Belgium - did they all head to Ireland also?
A week after we received the details of our French control Sedge Warbler, we received news that one of our Sedge Warblers from this year had been recovered on the way south in France.

Sedge Warbler Movements (green) and Reed Warbler (light blue)

The Reed Warbler was originally ringed at Middleton Nature Reserve, Heysham on the 04th of May 2018 and controlled by us 79 days later at a distance of c151 miles.

The Sedge Warbler was originally ringed near La Rochelle on the west coast of France on its way south on the 11th of August 2017. It then spent the winter in sub-Saharan Africa before returning to Northern Ireland to breed for the first time, 345 days later, at a minimum distance of 1087 km but in reality this will be much more.

Our recovered Sedge Warbler was a juvenile ringed on the 11th of August this year and was recovered in Dourges in NE France 17 days later at a minimum distance of 790km. Normally we would expect these birds to stick to the west of France on their way to Africa but that's part of the beauty of the study of migratory birds.



Sedge Warbler

Limitations and Restrictions
As a ringing group, all of us are located 70-90 minutes away from the site, so regular visits and very early starts are difficult to enable the full monitoring the site deserves. The walk into the site is also over a mile long striding through reeds and wet grassland and not the easiest with all the equipment but the shear volume and quality of birds makes it very worth while. Getting sufficient pairs of hands in 2018 was our biggest restricting factor in regards to the number of nets we can use and also keeping the limited number open - at times the birds enter the nets faster than they can be extracted, let alone processed so the nets are closed until all birds have safely processed and released before reopening. Early morning seems to be the key time for the movement of birds with birds pouring through before tailing off before 9am, with basically no birds being caught around 10am. Normally on arrival the birds are in full flow and we've caught up to 17 birds in two joined nets in the process of erection which only takes a couple of minutes.
Cost is also a consideration when ringing such volumes of birds, the current price per bird for an A ring is 25.2p, so for the 449 ringed in 2018 equates to £113.50 + a further £5.07 in AA rings. Thankfully I have been able to source some funding sources over the past 4/5 years to pay for some of the rings, most notably to the Centre for Environmental Data & Recording (CEDaR) who covered the cost of 1000 A rings for 2018, but having never charged our T's & C's (and no plans to do so) there is still a financial burden into the £100's each year for myself and John. A CES would help us get a real understanding for the local breeding population of the site and take away the financial burden but unfortunately we couldn't commit to the effort at the moment!

..... but after all that, we do hope to increase our studies at the site next year to increase our understanding of the breeding birds on site, the turn over of birds in 24 hours and potentially investigate the sites potential in the evening (= overnight camping!).
If I get some time over the winter (on top of everything else I take on and pile up) I may take a look at the patterns from previous recoveries of the migration routes taken by be Sedge Warblers with the UK and Ireland to and from Lough Neagh of which I think there are three main routes - via NW England (possibly more so spring?), direct line through Wales out of SE Northern Ireland and NE Ireland and some to SE Ireland before making the leap to SW Wales and SW England.


The fresh wing (lower) of a juvenile Sedge Warbler and worn wing of an adult (upper)

A big thank you to John Clarke, Steve Fyffe, David Stirling, David Galbraith, Ken Perry, James O'Neill and James McDowell who were present at one+ of the visits and to Godfrey who gives us access to the site and is always on hand to assist. 



Wednesday, 21 November 2018

2018 Season at Portstewart Strand

As you can see, my slacking in regards to posts has really gone to a new level! I would put this down mostly to the fact that we haven't been as active and for 95% of the time it has just myself and John Clarke. I have also become slightly addicted to Twitter and post most of my stuff on there - you can find me at @causewaybirds - https://twitter.com/CausewayBirds

I'll try and play catch up  on our activities and recoveries through the season so far but I can't promise it won't be another few months before the next post 😛

So another season complete in the dunes of Portstewart Strand along the Bann Estuary on the north coast and the declining picture continues.

It was a disappointing spring with only 74 new birds from 8 visits and just two visits in the summer. As usual, we were more active in the autumn and finished with 401 new birds of 27 species in total. We trapped two new species for the site with a fantastic Cuckoo and Twite.

Cuckoo

It was also very quiet on the trainee and visiting ringer front with just one T ringer on one of the 21 visits and no C permit holders. It was myself and John Clarke for 13 visits, Ken present two and eight were solo.

Twite

The focus of our activities have been centred on the Sea Buckthorn scrub, but as a none-native species and because of it's negative impact upon the SAC, it is being removed bit by bit each winter (as are the net rides with 190m+ lost already and a continual process of creating new ones), with 5 acres lost last winter. A further 9 acres is to be removed this winter leaving us with just c2 acres and a few other small areas to work with & bird numbers will continue to slide.



Species                           New (retrap/local recovery)
1 Blackbird                      25 (3)
2 Blackcap                       19 (4)
3 Bullfinch                       13 (7)
4 Blue Tit                         10 (3)
5 Chaffinch                      23 (4)
6 Chiffchaff                      3
7 Cuckoo                          1
8 Dunnock                       15 (15)
9 Goldcrest                      10 (7)
10 Goldfinch                    12
11 Great Tit                     10 (1)
12 Lesser Redpoll            10
13 Linnet                          54
14 Meadow Pipit              80
15 Reed Bunting              14 (2)
16 Robin                          22 (8)
17 Sedge Warbler             1
18 Skylark                         6
19 Song Thrush               15 (1)
20 Sparrowhawk               1
21 Starling                        1
22 Stonechat                   11 (2)
23 Twite                           1
24 Whitethroat                  2
25 Willow Warbler           14 (5)
26 Woodpigeon                2
27 Wren                           26 (15)
Total                                 401 (77)


Perhaps not the easiest to read, but see below for the totals from the site since we began ringing at Portstewart Strand in the autumn of 2014. The right-hand box indicates the effort put in each year and as you can see it was our worst yet for a full season

There were no recoveries of any great distance with just a few local movements to/from the Ulster University Campus & Castlerock.

The weather in recent weeks has been very poor so we haven't opened any nets but hoping to shift our attentions over to Castlerock for the remainder of the year.

The next post will cover our return to the Lough Neagh shore and promises lots of acro warblers including three controls/recoveries including two to France and our first Reed Warbler control!

Skylark

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.

Redwing

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.

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
Wren                      

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.

Goosdander
 

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.

Siskin 

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.