Friday 10 May 2019

The Warblers are back

With the sounds of our favourite species group - the warblers, back on territory, we have visited some our regular spots to catch up with some old friends and meet the new cohort.
By the end of April we've had our regular six breeding species back which include Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and most pleasingly, Grasshopper Warbler. For regular readers you will know that there was a complete absence of Grasshoppers over most of Northern Ireland last year and I hadn't seen or heard a single bird. Things seem to be back to normal this year with at least five territories back in the Bann Estuary and probably a few more to come.

Some good weather over the five day long Easter weekend gave the perfect opportunity to get out and open the nets. I made three visits to Portstewart Strand in this period with a great morning on Good Friday encouraging another the following day and again out on Easter Tuesday.

Willow Warbler

The first visit seemed to be very well timed with a catch of 14 new Willow Warblers which is a daily record for the site, most were females and caught moving through the gorse bushes. The same nets also produced 13 new Linnets. A female Greenland type Wheatear was the last bird in the nets and keeps up our track record of catching one Wheatear each spring at the site.

Greenland Wheatear

                                     New        Retrap
Blue Tit                                            1
Bullfinch                                          2
Dunnock                        2
Linnet                            13
Meadow Pipit                                   3
Sedge Warbler               1
Wheatear                        1
Willow Warbler              14
Wren                               2               1

Total                              33              7

Sedge Warbler - dirty nails are regular when ringing here

The Sedge Warbler on the 19th of April was my earliest ever beating the previous record held by a bird at Copeland Bird Observatory on the 24th of April in 2016. My earliest Sedge Warbler around the Bann Estuary is the 29th of April in two years & the 30th of April in two others, so certainly an early bird.
One of the Bullfinches retrapped was also an old lady having originally been ringed as a female on the 20th of November 2014 born in that year.

The middle gorse net at first light

Having had such a good catch (in limited nets) I opted to go again the following day in what appeared to be an even better forecast and added an extra net.
The result was disappointing with very little moving and much fewer birds seen out on the estuary.

                                     New        Retrap
Blackbird                                         1
Bullfinch                                          1
Dunnock                        2                 1
Linnet                            3
Stonechat                       1
Willow Warbler            3
Wren                                                1

Total                              9              6    


The third visit was on the 23rd of April and although the conditions weren't overly promising but the nets were sheltered from the northerly wind. It continues to be a strong start of the season for Willow Warblers but many will have to find new territories elsewhere with a lack of habitat to serve them all. We tend to catch more Linnets in the autumn with the use of tape lures but we seem to be doing particularly well this spring. There are certainly 2/3 breeding pairs right beside our nets but there are still small flocks passing through the gorse (tape lures have not been used).

                                     New        Retrap
Blackcap                        1
Bullfinch                                          1
Dunnock                                          1
Linnet                            3                 1
Willow Warbler            4                 1
Wren                                                1

Total                              8              5    

The retrap Willow Warbler was one of our returning adult male birds originally trapped on the 9th of April in 2017.

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