Wednesday 27 July 2016

Triple S - Sand Martins, Storm Petrels and Sedge Warblers

On Tuesday evening John, Ken, Geoff and I had another attempt at catching Storm Petrels in near perfect conditions at Rinnagree Point.

It was the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures up to 30°C and remained around 20°C after midnight.  The hot day had brewed up some huge thunder storms and we were well entertained with a raging storm out to sea which persisted throughout the two and half hours we were there.  The strikes were constant with two or three strikes every few seconds but thankfully they were far enough away to avoid any rain.

Storm Petrel

The birds appeared pretty quickly and steady but slowed after 12.30am.  The first creature in the net was a Pipistrelle bat species which appear around the nets regularly and we catch one/two every year.  There were far fewer birds around compared to the last visit but I would suggest the catching rate was much higher with perhaps every 7 out of every 10 birds sticking in the nets.  We packed up at 01.15 and headed for home.  We caught a total of 23 new birds and retrapped two birds from our previous visit on Friday. 

One of the newly birds ringed was a fast mover and was caught the following night by Declan in Sheepland Harbour, Ardglass, County Down, a straight line distance of 123 km or a minimum of 181 km following the coast.  This is the fifteenth bird we have traded with Declan from Sheepland (plus a few more from his West Coast expeditions to Donegal and Mayo where 1000 birds in one night is not unheard of), eight of ours recovered there and seven of his birds caught by us.

Storm Petrel recovery from Rinnagree Point to Sheepland Harbour

On Saturday morning I was out bright and early at Grangemore to catch a few more of the breeding warblers before they up sticks and head for warmer climes.  Sedge Warblers are already on the move with a number passing through the coastal bird observatories of Britain. 
It was obvious from the off that things were much quieter with far fewer finches, no singing Sedge Warblers and a complete absence of Grasshopper Warblers.  The number of Sand Martins has dropped off considerably and again, are a species currently pouring through the coastal observatories on route to their sub-Saharan wintering grounds. 
Other birds about included the first Grey Wagtail since the winter, the local Buzzard pair with a fledgling, a Peregrine, ever increasing wader numbers/species and many more terns including the first few Common Terns and 4/5 metal ringed Sandwich Terns.
Reed Bunting

The catch was modest but it did include a couple more new Sedge Warblers.  The main 36m reedbed net ride was again disappointing catching only two birds.  It was also a bit of a problem taking the net down as the tide had risen higher than expected, resulting in a wellie full of water.  It was good to catch two new Reed Buntings as it may help explain where the birds that appear at Portstewart Strand in the autumn come from.    

Grangemore 23/07/2016                                      
                                       New     Retraps
Lesser Redpoll                 1
Linnet                               1
Meadow Pipit                    1
Reed Bunting                    2
Sedge Warbler                  3             2          
Willow Warbler                  1

Total                                10             2        
Willow Warbler

The third visit to the Macfin Sand Martin colony took place on Friday evening in perfect conditions.  It was a bit of a sedate hour or so but there was a bit of excitement when two Sparrowhawks bombed through.  The first bird was a male but unfortunately passed over as I was extracting birds from the net.  Twenty minutes later a female bird appeared and dropped in between the net and bank, flapping past the burrows but avoided the net.  Hirundines are always fantastic at warning you of the immanent arrival of a bird of prey! 
The recapture total was pretty good with 24 birds, 7 from 2014, 5 from 2015 and 12 from this year.  A further 20 new birds were also captured but again very few juveniles.  I could hear quite a number calling inside the burrows, so I was probably just a little too early for the second broods to have fledged.  One of the retraps was particularly interesting as it was a bird that was recovered at a Hirundine roost at Cors Ddyga, Anglesey, Wales back on the 19th of August 2014.  It's great to see that it made it back to breed for another year - I guess it avoided the nets last year.    

The season total for the Macfin Sand Martin colony stands at 96 new birds and 50 retraps.  The total number of new birds is lower than previous years but by including the increased number of retraps  (13 from 2014 and 18 from 2015), it is fairly close in the number of different birds handled.  10 of 13 2014 individuals retrapped had not been encountered since ringing.  For a second year running there were no controls caught at the colony but fingers crossed for a recovery on their way south.  The increased number of retraps may finally open up the window for a Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) study. 
I plan to give Grangemore a follow up visit so I will hold off on posting the totals for there until next week!

The view up river from the Macfin Sand Martin colony

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