Wednesday, 21 June 2017

May/June Ringing Update

Sand Martin season is back upon us and the first visit to Grangemore has kicked things off in style.  Pre-holiday I had noticed a number of new burrows on the main sand bank, a new colony of around 15 pairs on the golf course at Portstewart Strand across the river where they were excavating sand and 3/4 pairs had recolonized the sand banks at the Barmouth, so numbers in the estuary were looking up.
On arrival last Wednesday there were over 70 birds perched along the fences above the bank with many juveniles amongst them and a further 50 flying around the site.  David and I quickly got the nets up in front of the burrows and immediately caught a dozen birds flying out.  The conditions were actually very breezy but the bank was perfectly sheltered on the outer bend of the smaller Articlave River.

Over the next hour or so we caught an impressive total of 135 new birds and 12 retraps.  Given the quantity of birds we were not recording biometrics and simply ringing, ageing, sexing and release.  The totals were 61 males, 48 females, 35 juveniles and three were unsexed adults.  This total is greater than the three visits last year combined so it could be a very big year.  I did count the number of likely active burrows but I don't have a notion what that was now - maybe c85-100!  The retraps were mostly from the colony from the previous year but one was one of the birds that has moved from our other colony 12.6km away which we caught here last July.  Another was the single bird I had caught in the reedbed close by a few weeks ago.  The first visit to Macfin is due very soon and any trainees are welcome to come along (c150 pair colony).

Juvenile Sand Martin

Following the visit to the Sand Martin colony we still had a few hours to spare before lunch so we decided to do some river ringing, which was a first for David.  We opted for one of the better spots where we regularly catch both Dippers and Kingfishers and the odd Grey Wagtail.

With the 6m net up across the river it wasn't long before a female Kingfisher came up river at full speed but unfortunately managed to flip out of the net within 5 seconds.  We had to wait another 10-15 minutes before some Dippers appeared down river and one duly flew in the net but the other thought better of it.  The male Kingfisher was being very vocal just up river for 10 minutes before it to dropped into the net. 
A decent morning and some great experience for David handling 2 new species and 149 birds!


Back on the 19th of May I spent a morning checking the 75 nest boxes in the wood in the Glens of Antrim (after a quick look a few weeks previous) and things have improved after the initial year of the scheme in 2016.  This year there were 17 active nests with 9 Blue Tit, 7 Great Tit and a single Coal Tit nest.  The nests were at very different stages with some of the Blue Tits on eggs and the early Coal Tits had already fledged some young.  I didn't ring all the chicks as some were too large and ready to burst or too small.

Healthy Blue Tit brood ready to fly the nest

When I entered the wood I had picked up the distant utterings of a Wood Warbler so I spent 10 minutes following the trail and tracked down the smart displaying male.  This was a first for me and a very uncommon bird in Northern Ireland with no breeding records for the past few years, only 2-3 sightings in that period and probably the only pair in Northern Ireland (a female was located a few weeks later).

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is continuing its charge across Ireland and reached the Glens of Antrim last year.  The study wood is ideal habitat with large old trees and some dead standing trees and has had a female for over a year.  There were quite a few vocal calls (chiuck chiuck (kind of)) but I didn't have a chance to track them down.  I had given another birder the heads up about the Wood Warblers and he managed to find a GSW nest with two chicks, so brilliant news for the wood!  I did pay a visit on my return from holidays but the chicks appear to have fledged.  I'm not sure how the male has been so evasive as I'm not aware of any sightings.  When there, I also checked half the boxes and all occupied nests fledged their young bar one which still contained a brood of Blue Tits which were suitable for ringing.  

Last year a pair of Tree Sparrows took up residence in a nestbox at Grangemore but unfortunately failed at the egg stage.  This year things had improved and we had two active nests, one with three eggs and another with two.  I had left the follow up visit for a little longer than I hoped and found that the nest with 3 eggs had fledged and the other nest had a well developed chick and a cold egg.  There are around a dozen boxes scattered around the abandoned small farm so hopefully the box uptake will continue to improve.  I have checked to see if they will attempt a second brood but seemingly not.

We have made two visits to Portstewart Strand in the past 6 weeks and although things have been relatively quiet the first wave of juveniles are flitting between the bushes.  I hope to visit again this coming weekend as we will be kept off site for the following two weeks as Portstewart Golf Club are hosting the 2017 Irish Open which is going to be massive with tens of thousands of spectators!  Himalayan Balsam has started to take root at the site so I spent half an hour trying to remove all the plants before they seed.  I pulled 529 plants, some a few inches high and am hoping that I got the lot but the river will continue to deposit more seeds given that it drains almost two thirds of Northern Ireland.

529 Himalayan Balsam plants

Portstewart Strand 26/05-17/06/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                 1            
Dunnock                  4                2

Chaffinch                 1                                         
Linnet                      11              

Meadow Pipit           1              
Robin                       2

Song Thrush            2
Stonechat                 1                        
Willow Warbler        3              
Wren                        2               1

Totals                      28             3                    

Juvenile Robin

When I was away John paid a visit to the River site at the University and caught around 20 birds which included five adult Blackcaps and half a dozen juvenile Blackbirds.  He has also been hunting out bird of prey nest sites but again the Long-eared Owls have beaten us to it with a few juveniles perched amongst the trees.

Long-eared Owl chicks   (copyright of John Clarke)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory 19-21st May 2017

I was out at Copeland Bird Observatory for my third weekend of the year with a large party of two from the Observatory, six from the Belfast and Down Ringing Group, a rabbit researcher from Queens University Belfast and myself.  The forecast didn't promise much in the way of movement but as ever I'm always hopeful for something nice turn up in the nets.

As predicted the winds weren't overly compliant and migrants were thin on the ground.  We didn't totally hit a blank and trapped 2 Chiffchaff, a single Sedge Warbler and a late Redwing.  The girls from BDRG got a bit of practice catching and handling large gulls trapping three Herring Gulls and one Lesser-black Backed Gull on Saturday afternoon using nest traps.


On Friday night Rosie and Terry set up the moth trap around the garden pond in ideal conditions.  It was a decent catch with the Poplar Hawk moth looking the most spectacular plus 151 Campion, 1 Clouded Border, 20 White Ermine, 2 Flame Shoulder, 1 Angle Shades, 1 Sandy Carpet, 2 Spectacle, 3 Broom moths, a possible Bullrush Wainscott, possibly 4 Red-headed Chestnut, possibly 1 Twin-spot carpet and 17 unidentified micros, a couple rather dapper looking.  It is great spot for moth trapping although there has been little trapping in the past 10+ years.  Other lepidotera included c20 Green-veined White, 1 Red Admiral and 1 Speckled Wood butterflies.  As Records Secretary at the observatory I've not yet had the chance to look at any records other than birds yet but once I get everything in order I hope to work on the likes of cetaceans and moths etc.   

Poplar Hawk Moth

White Ermine

On Sunday afternoon, after news of our delayed boat, I spent a bit of time doing a full island gull count and searching for nests amongst the scrub.  A full circumference of the island produced c395 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, c360 Herring Gulls, 63 Common Gulls, 2 Great Black-back Gull nests and a few other bits and pieces including 11 pairs of Oystercatcher, at least 3 Fulmar nests with eggs (no doubt more) and a single Eider nest much higher up the shore than normal (there will have been plenty more on the lower shore but I didn't want to disturb the birds - there were 19 new female Eiders and 22 retraps caught midweek on Mew Island).  I had a bit of luck with some of the larger nests and turned up three occupied Woodpigeon nests and a single Magpie nest.  The Magpie nest, with five eggs, was actually within 40cm of a Woodpigeon next with two eggs as pictured below.  The other two WP nests had 2 well developed chicks and a single egg.

Woodpigeon nest to left and Magpie nest slightly up right
Woodpigeon chicks

Another benefit of the delayed boat was the sighting of a Marsh Harrier that drifted across to Mew Island as we sat in the hide late afternoon.  The large gulls didn't take kindly to its presence and it was swiftly escorted away.  Marsh Harriers are very uncommon in NI with only a handful of sightings in a good year and probably only 3-5 sighted at CBO since 1954. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 19-21/05/2017                           
                                                   New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                                      1
Chiffchaff                                    1                1
Goldfinch                                     1               1                                             
Jackdaw                                       1
Herring Gull                                 3
Lesser-black Backed Gull          1      
Pied Wagtail                                1
Redwing                                       1         
Reed Bunting                               2               5
Robin                                            1               2

Rock Pipit                                    1               1
Sedge Warbler                            1
Swallow                                        2
Woodpigeon                                2 (pulli)
Wren                                            2               1          

Totals                                          20              12           

Sundown over the Pub

Davis S went out to CBO the weekend before and despite being restricted by strong winds caught a further five Whitethroats and turned up the first Spotted Flycatchers of the year with two caught. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 12-14/05/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Chiffchaff                  3               
Manx Shearwater     1                                                           
Pied Wagtail             1           
Reed Bunting                           5            

Rock Pipit                                1
Sedge Warbler         1
Spotted Flycatcher  2    
Whitethroat              5
Willow Warbler        3
 Wren                                       1                            

Totals                      16              7                   

Spotted Flycatcher

Spot the Puffin decoys

30 minutes with a scythe cleaned up the Puffing breeding bank

The real deal

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory 9th-11th May

On Tuesday the 9th I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory for my first mid-week stay accompanied by Laurence from the Belfast and Down Ringing Group.  The trip had been arranged to accommodate a work party of 10 from a local NGO but they unfortunately had to cancel.  The forecast looked rather decent and I like to get out to the island this time of year so we decided to press ahead anyway. 


The said forecast was as predicted for the two night stay with hardly a cloud in the sky and some very warm weather.  The winds weren't fantastic for migration with northerlies on Saturday morning/afternoon and easterlies for the rest but a number of birds still passed through.  The island is dry as I have ever seen it following almost 3 weeks without rain.  I had said something very similar in a post this time last year but it was much drier this time with the pond down to a muddy sludge and cracked earth all over island.  The island still looks fantastic with the millions of flowers of Bluebell, Crab Apple, Marsh Marigold, Red Campion, Sea Campion, Scarlet Pimpernel and Thrift to name but a few.   

The image above shows the remaining mud in the garden pond and the keen eyed will notice a couple of Swallows and a Pied Wagtail in the net which I put up to take advantage of the dozens of Swallows swooping low over the surface. 

Pied Wagtail

Over the weekend hirundines were the most conspicuous migrants with 175+ Swallows passing through (plus a few resident birds) and 15+ House Martins.  14 Swallows were captured and a single House Martin which was the first of the year.  Swifts made an early dash through on Wednesday morning with at least 6. 
I didn't pay much attention to the action offshore but certainly on Sunday there were obviously fish on the move with lots of Razorbills, Guillemots, Gannets and gulls working the shoals (plus a few angling boats).  The first Common Terns of the year arrived on Wednesday, with even more the following day plus the first Arctic Terns while Sandwich Terns were present throughout.  The Puffin numbers reached 28 with a number visiting the burrows and Black Guillemots hit 66.   

House Martin

The breeding birds are very busy with many of the Eider, Herring Gulls and Reed Buntings incubating their first eggs and the likes of Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Stock Dove and Rock Pipit feeding chicks.  It will be a busy few months with the Black Guillemots, Common Gulls, Fulmars, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Swallows joining the mix and with any luck the Arctic/Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Puffins will have a successful year.  A retrap female Blackcap and a skulking singing male Blackcap suggest they may breed once again and hopefully the singing male Sedge Warblers will hang around after a few years absence. 
Another species new to the ringing list and species list for the year was Whitethroat with three caught over the weekend with a further 3 Sedge Warbler and 3 Willow Warbler.  Corvids were on the move with plenty of Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and two Carrion Crow passing over.  Seven Jackdaw stopped by for a quick feed in the crow trap and were duly ringed. 

Water Rail

A few other nice captures included a smart looking retrap Water Rail, the 8th Wheatear of the season (one of three present) and a late Song Thrush.  Non-avian sightings were made up of 40+ Green-veined White butterflies plus the first Red Admiral of the year. 
We got a little work done on Saturday afternoon when we patched up the holes in the crow trap (which provided immediate dividends in the Jackdaws) and started a bit of grass cutting which is a monumental task. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 09-11/05/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                 3               
Blackcap                                  1

House Martin           1
Jackdaw                   7
Pied Wagtail            1                
Reed Bunting                           2
Robin                        1              3         

Rock Pipit                                 1
Sedge Warbler         3
Song Thrush            1
Swallow                   14
Water Rail                                 1   
Wheatear                  1    
Whitethroat              3
Willow Warbler        3            
Wren                                          3              

Totals                      35              14                     


My personal CBO patch list for the year is up to 76 species which is around my usual year total of 75-80 with the autumn still to come.  The Observatory as a whole is having a very decent season in terms of variety and has reached 93 species with the addition of Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher in the weekend past.  To keep up to date with the species list you can check the CBO website at  -

Moon lit sea and sky to the south east

I'm off to the Observatory again this coming weekend with a party of 12 people, 10 of those ringers.  Migrants at this time of year are very thin on the ground with the last trickle of tardy birds passing through but it does produces some of CBOs best spring rarities.  Hopefully with a bit of luck there will be a few birds to share around but the northerlies don't look promising. 
I head off to Italy for a few weeks the following weekend so activity will be limited until mid June, just in time for Sand Martin season.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Early May

Yet another quick update but I will follow up with a full post on a mid-week trip to Copeland Bird Observatory.  The great weather has continued with wall to wall sunshine for over two weeks now, although it has been a little windy for ringing.  Since the last post there have only been two ringing attempts, the first of those was the public bird ringing demonstration and the second was to Grangemore.

The forecast for the Saturday morning of the public bird walk and ringing demonstration was quite windy but we hoped to get a little shelter in the 'East Ride' nets.  John, Steve and I arrived before 7am and there was hardly a breath of wind, so we set the majority of nets but within an hour the wind had whipped up and we needed to take a couple down.  The brisk wind affected the catch and generally most of the birds were taking shelter in the dense scrub.  There were a few new species for the year with the first 3 Swifts, a Whitethroat, 2 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, along with another 52 species sighted. 

Willow Warbler

Although the catch was small the visitors were very pleased to see their first birds in the hand and got the opportunity to see some Blackcap, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler.  The others manned the nets while I continued the walk along the estuary shore to the Barmouth.  The final catch was (retraps in brackets) Blackbird (1), Blackcap 1, Bullfinch (2), Dunnock 1 (2), Goldcrest (1), Great Tit (1) Reed Bunting 1 and Willow Warbler 2 (1). 

The following day the forecast was much better with the wind abating to a light breeze and a marked increase in temperature so the first visit of the year to Grangemore was in order.  I was a little tired and solo so I didn't arrive down until 8am and set just the four nets - two across the main ditch and 40 metres in the larger reedbed on this side of the river. In and around the marsh there were at least 6 pairs of Sedge Warbler (many more across the river), 2 singing male Grasshopper Warblers, 2 pairs of Stonechat and countless Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.    While there I finished off some of the 'bridges' to cross the sheughs with the aid of old scaffolding planks kindly donated by David.

Sedge Warbler

The catch was modest and I was only likely to catch a maximum of six Sedge Warblers with the territories well defined and the placement of the nets, so to catch four new birds was pleasing.  A single Sand Martin and a Meadow Pipit completed the days catch.  The next visit will probably be in mid-June for the first visit to the Sand Martin colony and hopefully the first wave of juveniles. 

Images of the 'wader pools' highlighting how dry it has been of late

As I said at the start of the post I will follow up with a post on my recent Copeland Bird Observatory trip and I'll perhaps see if David S wants to write a bit about his weekend trip!  The patch list for the estuary has now topped the 100 mark by two and I'm well on the way to matching last years 123 species. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Late April - 1st May 2017

Again we have been pretty busy at the weekends and not had a great deal of time to get out ringing but I have managed two visits to Portstewart Strand and ticked off a few other bits and pieces.

The majority of the local breeding birds are back on territory in the Bann Estuary with the Grasshopper Warblers and Sedge Warblers joining the mix and now only Whitethroat are missing (although they are few and far between anyway).  There has been pretty decent late passage of Wheatears following the lack of birds in early spring and this peaked on Monday when there were 13+ Greenland Wheatears present.  I didn't have any traps but luckily this fine looking male found its way into the exact same spot in the furthest net as the single Wheatear did last year!

Greenland Wheatear

Many of the year round residents i.e. Bullfinch, Robin and Wren are well into their breeding cycle, perhaps incubating and have been pretty inconspicuous and not been appearing in the nets.  Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Reed Bunting have been the main species caught with a combined total of 12 ringed plus another returning Willow Warbler originally ringed in 2015.  



Reed Bunting pair

Each year we normally visit a few of the local Dipper nests and ring the chicks, generally in the c20 boxes Ken has put up.  I took the opportunity to visit a few of the natural nests and was late on a couple with the chicks having fledged already but I did find two with ringable broods - 4 and 3.   

Dipper chicks

Dipper nest

A few weeks back I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory for a work party day to fix up some of the traps and to set up the tern decoys and boxes.  There were a few birds moving through and the ringers on the island (for the week) had a decent catch of Willow Warblers and a few Wheatears and kindly let me ring a Stock Dove.  Stock Doves are very scarce in Northern Ireland and The Copeland Islands are probably only one of a handful of places you can find them.

Stock Dove

While the weather has been nice but windy I grabbed the opportunity to visit Grangemore and sort out some new net rides amongst the reeds and make some 'bridges' to cross the main drain that bisects the site.  I'm hoping the effort will greatly increase the number of Sedge Warblers we ring this year. with the added bonus of a few extra Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Bunting.

Last Sunday I led a Dawn Chorus walk through a woodland in the Glens of Antrim for work and we had a decent turn out and were treated to a sighting of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, which are still very rare in NI.  The woodland would be perfect for a breeding pair or two so watch this space over the next few years.  We have 75 next boxes throughout the woodland so I took a chance to check 15 boxes and found occupied nests with eggs of Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Great Tit, ringing the sitting females.  We will do the proper look around in 2/3 weeks time and ring the chicks.   

We are hosting a public bird walk and ringing demonstration at Portstewart Strand from 9am on Saturday morning (tomorrow), so if anyone is interested you are welcome to come along. 

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.