Thursday 9 May 2019

Early Spring

We kicked off the spring ringing along the Lower Bann on the 6th of April at Portstewart Strand with a focus on the gorse scrub and a couple of short nets in the remaining Sea Buckthorn/Elder scrub.


The catch wasn't a big one with 13 new birds and 7 retraps with the best bird being a retrap Bullfinch from May 2015.

                            New     Retrap
Blackbird               1
Bullfinch                              1
Chaffinch               1            1
Dunnock                              1
Linnet                    5
Meadow Pipit        4
Reed Bunting                       1
Stonechat               1            1
Wren                      1            2

Total                     13            7

Reed Bunting

The following weekend the weather was very windy yet again so I decided to dust off the spring traps and visit Ballintoy Harbour and see if I could retrap some of my Rock Pipits. I had passed by in recent weeks and only noticed 1-2 ringed birds amongst the 50+ present, although this number was declining.

Ballintoy Harbour is a great spot with lots of small rocky islands, bays, basalt cliffs just behind and usually has big piles of seaweed on the shore which are great for shoreline birds. The site is also used as a film location for Game of Thrones as Pyke, on the Iron Islands.


I arrived early doors but didn't have much luck in the first 45 minutes with just four Rock Pipits knocking around the spot I had chosen and a Pied Wagtail that constantly walked back and forth over the traps. A Wheatear then swooped in and was caught within 2 minutes.
It didn't take long then to add a second bird with a Rock Pipit taking a fancy to a meal worm. I left shortly after with my fingers frozen in the biting north wind and the first lot of tourists arriving.

Rock Pipit

We've also been back out on a couple of spots on the local rivers with a trainee from the Belfast & Down Ringing Group, who happens to live locally, to target some of the river species. We had a bit of luck with the capture of a Kingfisher and a couple of retrap Dippers

Kingfisher (JC)

Dipper (JC)

I came across this drake Mallard which had been knocked down on a nearby road during our time on the river. Unfortunate but he was a proper stunner.
Mallard (RD)

With my two heronries in the Bann Estuary now classified as extinct it leaves me with just the one to check for the UK wide BTO survey, which is located near the Donnybrewer Levels close to City of Derry Airport. The colony has moved from a mature Scots Pine plantation (following 95% harvesting) into the adjoining Sitka Spruce plantation which is probably 22-23 years old (I remember the mature forest being just a field which makes me feel old at the age of 30).
Some more trees have blown down beside where the herons nest so a few nests may have been lost as I could only locate 9 nests this year. I also found three dead young chicks which is more than usual - it has been a very windy early breeding season. I would estimate I found at least 29 egg shells under the nests (2,3,3,3,4,4,5,3,2) but I presume that not all shells will be removed from nest or make it to the forest floor.

Dead Grey Heron chick

Grey Heron eggs

The heron colony is in a very dense conifer plantation which is very hard to move through and see up to the tree tops - a good strong stick for whacking branches and spider webs is essential!

The dense conifer plantation is full of Woodpigeons and I noticed a number of hatched eggs under their flimsy stick nests but also came across the unhatched egg.

Woodpigeon egg

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