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. 

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