Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Start of the 2017 Portstewart Strand Season

Spring has sprung and the first trickle of our summer migrants have landed back on territory in full song.  With the first Willow Warbler back in the estuary last Saturday we made our first visit to Portstewart Strand the following day in fine conditions to kick off the 2017 season.

Willow Warbler

As it turned out it was rather quiet with no warblers present but we did spot the first Swallow of the year and the Sand Martin numbers have increased to over 20 around the colony.  Lesser Redpolls have returned following a breeding absence in 2016, so hopefully they will have some success this year.
We did spend a bit of time tweaking the new net rides and they are ready to go for the rest of the year. 

Water birds were a feature of the morning with small flocks of Whooper Swans passing through all morning and two small flocks of Greylag Geese.  A very large flock of c450 Black-tailed Godwits appeared from up river mid-morning and is probably the largest number I've seen in the estuary.  Around 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, 32 Shelduck, c400 Golden Plover and c150 Sanderling were also notable for April. 

The ringing was a little slow and we processed 19 birds, 9 of those new.  There was little of great interest but a Reed Bunting and a couple of Linnets are always nice.   Breeding is well underway with birds carrying nesting material and plenty of brood patches on show.    


This Sunday (9th Apr) we were again out at dawn and more hopeful of encountering some our returning breeding migrants having sighted many more Willow Warblers, the first (summer) singing Blackcaps plus plenty of Sandwich Terns at the mouth of the river through the week.

There were plenty of birds in song from the off and it was clear to see that the bulk of the male Willow Warblers are back with 15+ singing throughout the scrub.  Wheatears have been thin on the ground so far this spring but there was a single bird hoping about the shoreline on arrival and later around the 'Gorse nets'.  Lesser Redpolls were again a feature with plenty of vocal birds flying back and forth over the ringing site. 

The swans (local Mute Swans the exception) and geese seem to have passed through and by now many are probably in Iceland.  Black-tailed Godwits were again present in big numbers, the Eider flock has reached 10 and there is still a single Goldeneye hanging on. 

One of the new mist net rides

The ringing was much better and the first round included 3 new Willow Warblers and a Goldcrest.  We caught a further 3 new Willow Warblers and also retrapped a bird from May 2015.  It's always great to retrap the returning warblers and this bird will have flown to sub-Saharan Africa and back at least three times now.  It may seem a little surprising to catch such a high proportion of new birds but we had a poor year last year and caught only 14 new birds compared to the 51 the year previous.  This was generally down to a poor breeding year but we also only ring in a small area of the scrub and once the birds hold territory we only encounter a few until juvenile dispersal but this didn't really happen last year.
We added our first two Blackcaps of the year and also two Chiffchaff which are particularly nice as they do not breed in the locality and we generally only catch around three here each year.  Five Linnets and the first two Lesser Redpolls of the year ringed was also notable. 


Portstewart Strand 02+09/04/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                 3
Blackcap                   2

Blue Tit                                    1
Bullfinch                    2            1
Chiffchaff                  2
Dunnock                    4            5            
Goldcrest                  1              1
Goldfinch                                 1

Great Tit                    1            1
Lesser Redpoll         2
Linnet                        7

Meadow Pipit                           1
Reed Bunting           1           
Robin                        2              3

Willow Warbler        6              1
Wren                         1               5

Totals                      31             23                     

My Bann Estuary species list is up to 86 species for the year although I have missed at least five species with others having sighted Little Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Kumliens Gull, Spotted Redshank and Redwing.   

If the weather over Easter works in our favour we plan to visit Portstewart Strand again and get the Grangemore site set up for the summer including placing plank bridges across the Sheugh, (an Irish ditch) which bisects the site. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory 24-26th March 2017

Last weekend Steve and I made our first visit of the year to Copeland Bird Observatory and it turned out to be a great early trip.  We were joined by Ed from County Down and were set for a fine settled, sunny weekend and were actually worried that it looked too nice (which is a rare thing in NI). 
We set sail from Donaghadee a little earlier for this trip so we had plenty of time to open up the four heligoland traps and put up the nets before dark.  With the calm conditions we had no restrictions in regards to net placement so we set 11 nets around the main treed areas of the island.


On arrival it was clear there were a few Goldcrests on the island and it was an early sign of what to expect for the weekend.  We were able to leave a couple of the nets open for an hour or so before sundown and managed to catch 7 new Goldcrests (plus a British control), a Robin and a Chaffinch.
We had a nice little surprise when we found c30 Twite coming in to roost at Millennium Wood but unfortunately they stayed high in the Sitka Spruce trees above the net we had set there.  We closed up and settled down for dinner as we waited for full darkness before we went in search of some early Manx Shearwaters. The crystal clear skies opened up a window to millions of bright stars but probably not the best conditions for Manx Shearwaters making landfall.  We came across seven birds and managed to catch and ring two of them. 

Manx Shearwater

We opted for an early start on Saturday and begrudgingly skipped breakfast to head out in to a cold and frosty island.  We were very optimistic after the great start last night and had all nets unfurled and traps set by 7am. It was apparent after the first half hour that more Goldcrests had arrived with calls coming from all over the island.  By 10 o'clock we had caught over 70 birds with Goldcrest topping the bill with 43 new birds caught and ringed.  A few thrushes were also passing through with 5 new Blackbirds and a Redwing trapped, plus some other migrants in Chiffchaff, Lesser Redpoll and Meadow Pipit.


With the Twite spending the night in Millennium Wood we had made an attempt to intercept they as the left the roost but without success once again.  We did manage to catch a single Twite in the Garden but couldn't tempt any more of the flock.  We repeated the attempts for Saturday evening and Sunday morning and although the birds returned to the same spot, we failed again...


The first Swallow of the season glided through on Saturday afternoon as we took a break in the sun but it didn't hang around long. Later we decided to give the South (heligoland) Trap a little TLC.  In the last year or so the Elder bushes inside of the trap had become a little tall, dense and leggy and have made access very difficult for both people and birds.  To make it more effective we re-opened the paths down the centre and along the inner walls of the trap and snipped back the vegetation in front of the catching box.  The vegetation in the trap will need a proper overhaul at the end of the breeding season but it should at least be accessible until late summer.  Earlier in the day we had baited some of the potter traps with sardines and placed them in shallow pools around the island.  One of these produced the goods in the evening with a nice male Water Rail.

Water Rail

That night we again tried our luck to find some more Manx Shearwaters and had a little more success.  There were certainly more flying around making their strange calls and in total we ringed one new bird and retrapped nine.  One of these retraps was wearing a geolocator and we were able to retrieve it for Oxford University who lead the shearwater studies.  We are not sure which project the geolocator relates to but believe it is for wintering feeding locations of adult birds - so likely to have returned from the east coast of Argentina. 

Geolocator on Manx Shearwater

Saturday night/Sunday morning marked the spring clock change so getting up was a struggle with an hours sleep lost!  We seen an influx of a few more migrants with the arrival of yet more Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds, a couple of Dunnocks and the appearance of a second Sparrowhawk.  We ringed another c25 new birds including 3 Chiffchaff, two Blackbird, three Linnet and the male Sparrowhawk.  Another nice capture was a retrap Woodpigeon which had originally been ringed back in 2012.


We closed up by lunchtime on Sunday, still in glorious sunshine and jumped abroad the Mermaid for our journey back to mainland to bring a close to yet another great trip.  It has been a really good start to the CBO season, including Northern Ireland's first spring Yellow-browed Warbler ringed on the first weekend of the year, so we are already looking forward to the next visits in April and May.

SF & RD 


Copeland Bird Observatory 24-26/03/2017 Totals
                              New       Retrap     Control
Blackbird                 7               2
Chaffinch                 1               3
Chiffchaff                 4
Dunnock                  3               2
Goldcrest                57              1               1
Goldfinch                 1
Lesser Redpoll        3
Linnet                       3
Manx Shearwater    2               9
Meadow Pipit           2
Redwing                   1
Reed Bunting           2              3
Robin                        6              5
Sparrowhawk           1
Twite                         1
Water Rail                1
Woodpigeon                             1 (5+ years old)
Wren                         4               2

Totals                      99             28              1       

Sun down over the mainland

Apologies for the lack of updates recently but we have still been a little idle on the ringing front around the North Coast but we plan to get the spring ringing underway this weekend.

The only thing we have really done around the estuary was to prepare the ringing site and new net rides at Portstewart Strand (at the end of Feb) following the loss of East Ride, which was around 100m long.  We are supportive of the habitat management undertaken by the National Trust, Golf Club and NIEA and it will be quite interesting to see what effect it will actually have, although it has certainly reduced the available breeding habitat for many species.

New mist net ride
Steve and David have also found and developed a new site in the south-east coast of County Antrim and it looks like a very interesting spot.  They hope to start ringing there next month and we will keep you all updated on how they get on. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Colour-ringed Geese Part II

Continuation of the previous post with the ringing details/records of colour-ringed Light-bellied Brent Geese.

B6WR (born pre 2013) was originally ringed in Seltjarnarnes/Golfvöllur in southwest Iceland on the 18th of May 2014 (the same as 2TWR in last post) and has been recorded 13 times since.  This is the third consecutive winter the bird has been sighted at Lough Foyle and it returned to its ringing site in May 2015.

C3WR (born pre 2013) was originally ringed in Seltjarnarnes/Golfvöllur in southwest Iceland on the 18th of May 2014 (associated with B6WR above) and has been recorded 16 times since.  Its re-sightings are almost identical to B6WR above.

3XBB (born pre 2011 - male) was ringed at St. Benildus College, Sandyford, Dublin on the 07th of February 2012 and has been recorded 16 times since.  The bird was recorded at Myroe two winters ago and has been sighted multiple times in SW Iceland during May in 2012 & 2016.  

AZWB (born 2007) was ringed at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo on the 14th of February 2008 and has been recorded 20 times since, 12 of those from around Lough Foyle and returned to Sligo over three  winters. 

NVBY (born pre 2014) was originally ringed at Alftanes, South-west Iceland on the 12th of May 2015 and has been re-sighted seven times.  It was recorded back in SW Iceland the following May and five of it's records are from Lough Foyle.  

2DBB (born 2011) was ringed at St. Benildus College, Sandyford, Dublin on the 07th of February 2012, caught with 3XBB above.  It has been sighted more often with 44 records, 30 of those in Dublin Bay.  

XUBY (born 2007) was originally ringed at Axel Heiberg Island, Canada on the 02nd of August 2007 and has been re-sighted a massive 120 times!  The vast majority of the sightings come from Strangford Lough, Dublin Bay and few sites in between.  It has been recorded in Iceland over 8 years and this is the first sighting for Lough Foyle.

XLRY (born pre 2005) was ringed at Alftanes, South-west Iceland on the 15th of May 2005 and has been recorded 64 times since ringing.  It's records are split between SW Iceland and Lough Foyle with only two others from Tramore, County Cork in 2009 and 2012.  

SKWR (born pre 2008 - female) was ringed around Alftanes, South-west Iceland on the 10th of May 2010 and has been recorded 55 times.  It has been recorded at Lough Foyle 15 times, four times in Iceland over three winters with the remaining records in Strangford Lough.  

6KRR (born pre 2012) was ringed at Baldoyle, County Dublin on the 8th of March 2013 and has been recorded 67 times.  This bird is a Dub at heart recorded 58 times in the broad area with a further nine records from Strangford Lough.  

4IWW (born pre 2007 - male) was ringed at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo on the 14th of February 2008, on the same day as AZWB above and has been recorded 28 times since.  It spent the first couple of winters after ringing around Killala Bay in Co. Sligo but has since been recorded more commonly between Lough Foyle and Strangford Lough since with two records in western Iceland.  

H2BY (born pre 2015) was ringed in the Alftanes area of South-west Iceland on the 19th of May 2015 and has been recorded five times since, all from Lough Foyle last winter.  

It is clear to see from these select records that the Irish Brent Project continues to be very successful and has taken a tremendous effort by the team, particularly the recorders around Dublin, Strangford Lough and in Iceland who dedicate a lot of time for the species. 

On our own ringing front it has again been a quite one.  John and I did make an attempt to catch some Twite at a site along Lough Foyle where I have observed a flock of 35-40 in the last few months.  It is an interesting spot as it appears to be the midden head for the owner of an aviary so a continuous pile of mixed seed, millet, sawdust and droppings.  Whatever it actually is it can attract 100's of birds with flocks of Linnet, Twite, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Tree Sparrows and few other species. 
The morning we attempted a catch the Twite failed to show up and the breeze did the nets no favours and we ended up 6/7 Linnets, 2 Robins and a Chaffinch.  We hope to give it another shot before the Portstewart Strand season kicks off once more, perhaps we'll dust of the whoosh net!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Colour-ringed Geese

I have put a bit of time in recently sifting through some of the current geese flocks at the Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle in County L'Derry and Fair Head in County Antrim.  I've had a bit of success in finding colour-ringed Pale-bellied Brent and Greylag Geese with 18 combinations successfully recorded plus sightings of a single Barnacle Goose, which are scarce in Northern Ireland, plus some Greenland White-fronted Goose.

On the two visits to Myroe this month there have been up to 1500 Pale-bellied Brent Geese feeding on the turf lawns and quite a number of colour ringed birds amongst them.  I was more successful on my second visit when I found 11 combinations within 5 minutes amongst c700 birds at close range.  There were probably the same number again that I didn't clinch but unfortunately they flushed.  These birds are usually fitted with one coded colour ring on each leg or a combination of colour rings.
The birds originate from the East Canadian High Arctic flyway population (c38-40,000 birds) and breed in the very far north of Canada.  The majority overwinter in Ireland but a number head to western and southern Britain, the Channel Islands, northern France and transit through Greenland and Iceland.  Since the project started in 2001 there have been over 4,700 geese ringed across Ireland, Iceland and Canada and records top the 10,000 mark each year!  Hats off to the Irish Brent Research Group for the fantastic work they do and particularly Graham for processing the sightings
- for more details check out their blog - http://irishbrentgoose.blogspot.co.uk/
I've added the details of five of the Brent and 2 Greylags below and will follow up with the remaining Brent in another pot soon.

2TWR (born pre 2013) was originally ringed in Seltjarnarnes/Golfvöllur in southwest Iceland on the 18th of May 2014 and has been recorded 14 times since, including along Lough Foyle over the past three winters.  It was recorded back in Iceland three times in late spring 2016.

GRXY (born 2011 - female) was originally ringed in Nairn along the Moray Firth in Scotland on the 13th of January 2012 and has been recorded 13 times since ringing.  It was recorded around Lough Foyle last year and has further sightings in County Kerry and Strangford Lough. 

L7B7 (born 2016 - female) was originally ringed at Cross Island, Strangford Lough on the 18th of November 2016.  It was spotted again close-by the following day after ringing and then at the Myroe Levels 12 days before my sighting. 

TUWB (born pre 2008 - male) was originally ringed in Cromane, Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry on the 26th of March 2009.  It has been recorded 25 times since, mainly in 4/5 sites in south Cork and was recorded in Lough Foyle last winter.

UULY (born 2005 - female) was originally ringed at Alftanes, South-west Iceland on the 15th of May 2006 and has been re-sighted a staggering 90 times!!!  Most of these sightings (55) come from around the original ringing site which is in close proximity of the Icelandic capital - Reykjavik.  She has been re-sighted every year in the last 11 years and nine individual years in Iceland and five years at the Myroe Levels.  

At Fair Head the target species were the Greylag Geese with a portion of these being local breeding feral birds.  I found 183 birds in small flocks with two bearing orange coded neckbands plus an almost pure white leucistic bird.  Both birds had been ringed in the Western isles of Scotland on Islay.   

NDD (yellow) was ringed on the 11th of November 2011 as a juvenile female and now appears to be resident on Rathlin Island/Fair Head.
NCL (green) was ringed on the 21st of January 2015 as a juvenile.  It was recorded with a brood in its first summer on Colonsay to the north but returned to Islay for the winter.  It was first recorded in Northern Ireland on the first of February this year.   
Greylag Geese NDD (yellow) & NCL(green)

Monday, 13 February 2017

French recovery via a Long-eared Owl

Hot on the heels of the Sand Martin movement to France we have received news of another French recovery although it wasn't what we were expecting.
The bird in question refers to a mystery small French ring which John had found inside of a Long-eared Owl pellet on the Ulster University Campus in Coleraine back in April 2011.  Following a few years of trying to get the ringing details, even sending messages in French, we had written off receiving them.  We had thought the most likely species would have been something like a Lesser Redpoll, Sedge Warbler or perhaps a Siskin.
As it turns out it was another Sand Martin originally ringed at Lagunage, Rochefort, Charente-Maritime on the Atlantic Coast roughly 112 miles to the south of last weeks bird.  It was originally ringed on the 20th of August 2006 during an evening roost catch at a minimum distance of 1101km from Coleraine.  It was aged as a youngster in 2006 so it could have made as many as ten flights between Northern Ireland and Sub-Saharan Africa.  John is quite confident that the pellet was fresh when he found it as he had been watching the LEO nest above.

Sand Martin movement from France

This was actually the second recovery John has found in LEO pellets at the University and it's a great reward for his efforts.  The other bird was a Siskin which had originally been ringed at Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire on the east coast of England.  

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Post 100!

The BTO sent through some good news to say that one of our Sand Martins was controlled in France on its first migration south.  The bird was originally ringed at our Grangemore Sand Martin colony on the 18th of June 2016 and wound up at Tour aux Moutons, Donges, Loire-Atlantique, France 52 days later, travelling a minimum distance of 932 kilometres. 

Sand Martin control to Donges, France

I promised to give details of one of our Oystercatchers that turned up in Dublin ages ago and I have finally got around to processing it.  It was ringed as a recently fledged bird by Ken back in June 2004 at Croaghan Islet, Mulroy Bay, Donegal which was a former gull/tern breeding colony before it was decimated by American Mink.  We are unable to say where it has spent the past 12 and a half years of its life but it was still going strong at South Lagoon, Bull Island, Dublin on the 29th November 2016.  The minimum distance travelled is 228 kilometres although it is highly likely that it passed along the coast on its way to Dublin.  The oldest Oystercatcher recorded in the UK was over 40 years old, so some way to go for this bird to be a record breaker.

 Oystercatcher movement to Dublin

It had been over a month since our last visit to Castlerock, when John, David, Dineka and I dragged ourselves out last Sunday.  It was a cold start sitting at 3 below, with a very hard frost, which had even turned the normally soft estuarine sand to a hard cake.  It heated up a bit in the clear sunny skies but perhaps not the best for mist nets.  There are still thousands of berries remaining on the bushes to keep the birds interested but it looks like they are starting to drop now.  The flock of c40 Fieldfare were still scattered through the bushes with plenty of Bullfinches for company.
The Fieldfares are still giving us the run around and we failed to catch any but we did catch a few Blackbirds and Bullfinches.

Castlerock Golf Club 05/02/2017  
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                  3              1          

Bullfinch                   2              1
Dunnock                   1

Goldcrest                                  1
Robin                        1               1 
Song Thrush            1          
Wren                                         1 

Total                          8              5            

Bullfinches             DS

There have been a further two ringing training sessions in Antrim with Copeland Bird Observatory.  The catches have been rather low with not many birds visiting the feeders throughout the winter.  We did get a bit of excitement on the first visit when a flock of Waxwings had appeared in the car park but unfortunately they had been chased off by a pair of Mistle Thrushes by the time we arrived. 
The Observatory opens up again next month so all focus will be back on the island.

I have spotted and received details of 16 colour-ringed geese over the past few weeks and will update on those in a later post.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Bird Observatories Council 2017 Report

The 2017 Bird Observatories Council Report is now available and makes for a great read!  Along with the usual partners across the UK, Ireland and the Isle of Man, there is a new addition to the line up on the Channel Islands at Alderney Bird Observatory who had a spectacular first year.

You can check it out on the following link - https://goo.gl/2Kqdju

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

2016 Ringing Totals

As promised, I have put together the groups ringing totals for 2016 and copied them below.  We caught a total of 57 species which is up four species on last year.  We ringed 582 fewer full grown birds but did up the pulli total by 80.  These lower totals are in part down to a poor breeding season but also the reduced effort in garden ringing, for example, there were 106 fewer Great Tits and 228 less Goldfinches ringed this year.  This reduction in garden ringing decreased the totals greatly but the greater focus on Sand Martins and Waders boosted the numbers to reduce the difference. 

We hope to expand our wader ringing activities this year so you may see a wider variety of species caught.  We are also due a passerine scarcity/rarity, so I look forward to plucking a few of those out of the nets! 

Best viewed on a computer/laptop as mobile devices skew the formatting. 

                                                                                      Full grown               Pulli     Retraps/Recoveries               Total

             Storm Petrel                                                                66                       0                       5                    71
             Sparrowhawk                                                               2                                                1                      3
             Curlew Sandpiper                                                        1                                                                        1
             Dunlin                                                                           23                                                                      23
             Ruff                                                                                2                                                                        2
             Snipe                                                                              1                                                                        1
            Black-tailed Godwit                                                      3                                                                        3
            Bar-tailed Godwit                                                          2                                                                       2
            Curlew                                                                            1                                                                       1
            Redshank                                                                       26                                                                     26  
            Black-headed Gull                                                         2                    43                       2                     47
            Common Gull                                                                 0                     4                       0                       4
            Sandwich Tern                                                                                     357                                           357
            Common Tern                                                                                       32                                             32
            Woodpigeon                                                                    1                                                                       1
            Kingfisher                                                                       1                                                                       1
             Skylark                                                                           4                       0                       0                     4
             Sand Martin                                                                197                      0                      66                  263
             Swallow                                                                         89                     17                       0                  106
             House Martin                                                                3                        0                       0                     3
             Meadow Pipit                                                               72                       5                       1                    78
             Rock Pipit                                                                      3                                                                        3
             Grey Wagtail                                                                 0                       6                       0                       6
             Pied/White Wagtail                                                       2                       0                       0                       2
             Dipper                                                                             4                       0                       1                       5
             Wren                                                                              51                       0                     18                     69
             Dunnock                                                                        39                       0                     32                     71
             Robin                                                                             74                       0                     44                  118
          Stonechat                                                     16                 4                 1                21
            Wheatear                                                                         1                                                                         1
          Blackbird                                                    72                 4                20                96
          Fieldfare                                                       3                 0                 0                 3
          Song Thrush                                                29                 0                 5                34
          Redwing                                                       9                 0                 0                 9
             Grasshopper Warbler                                                  2                                                                         2
          Sedge Warbler                                             24                 0                 5                29
             Whitethroat                                                                  3                                                                         3
          Blackcap                                                     29                 0                 1                30
          Chiffchaff                                                     5                 0                 0                 5
          Willow Warbler                                           61                 0                14                75
          Goldcrest                                                    34                 0                10                44
          Long-tailed Tit                                             17                 0                 6                23
          Coal Tit                                                      80                 0                56              136
          Blue Tit                                                     146               67                68              281
          Great Tit                                                     78               69                68              215
          Treecreeper                                                   3                 0                 1                 4
          Jackdaw                                                        0               13                 0                13
          Starling                                                        4                 5                 0                 9
          House Sparrow                                             43                 3                 1                47
          Chaffinch                                                  178                 3                33              214
          Greenfinch                                                  21                 0                 0                21
          Goldfinch                                                  122                 0                16              138
          Siskin                                                        17                 0                 0                17
          Linnet                                                        45                 0                 3                48
          Lesser Redpoll                                             33                 0                 8                41
          Bullfinch                                                    34                 0                11                45
          Reed Bunting                                               15                 0                 1                16

                                                Total:                1793              632              505            2930