Saturday 2 November 2019

Return to Lough Neagh - 2019

After the great success of our Lough Neagh ringing site in recent years we were very keen to get back on the shore and open the nets. Making best use of the bank holiday weekend and a good weather, we decided to go for the first visit on Saturday 13th of July. John and I were short on helpers and lost three people the day before but we were joined by two fairly new trainees in Abbie and Rich K.

Sedge Warbler

In the last few years, the first rush of birds is usually underway as we are setting the nets, so we decided that an earlier start was needed. We set off form Coleraine at 04.30am, arriving at the parking area around 05.30am, on site 30 mins later after the walk in with the gear and then a further 30 minutes to get the 7 nets (run of 4 & 2) opened.

The catch was another busy one with 119 new birds including another 76 new Sedge Warblers, 10 more Reed Warblers and our first two Grasshopper Warblers for the site.

                                      New         Retrap
Blackcap                          3
Grasshopper Warbler      2
Reed Bunting                  7                1
Reed Warbler                 10
Robin                              1
Sedge Warbler               76               1
Willow Warbler            19
Wren                               1

Total                              119              2     

                                                                         Reed Bunting

Visit two took place a few weeks later on the 27th of July. We had planned for this morning with a team of 11 assembled but the weather changed & we had to bring it a day forward, leaving it with just myself, Steve, Abbie and also Joe, who had travelled all the way from Donegal.
As usual with the site, the onslaught of birds began at once and two nets were closed early and further two furled temporarily. The birds die off completely by 10 am.
The result was a big haul of 220 new birds which included 20 Reed Warblers, surely an Irish daily record. The 167 Sedge Warblers ought to be up there for a record catch also.

                                       New         Retrap
Blackcap                          15
Chiffchaff                         2
Dunnock                          3
Grasshopper Warbler      1
Reed Bunting                  3
Reed Warbler                 20
Robin                              4
Sedge Warbler              167              
Willow Warbler            19
Wren                               1

Total                              119                  

We didn't catch any retraps and given that we have previously ringed 782 birds in 6 visits here, the birds are clearly moving through the site

Yet again we managed just the three visits despite all our hopes and talk! Visit three took place on the 25th of August where we had a good team assembled with John, Ken, Jim Mc, Abbie, Rich K, James O and Nathan giving us a team of eight. With extra hands we increased the nets and covered four net sites with nine nets. It was a bright hot day which seemed to effect the birds. It was the first time at Blackers Rock that we haven't had a big movement of birds early doors and instead there was a steady trickle right through, until we took down the nets. There were much fewer birds seen and heard but there were still lots skulking amongst the reeds. We were only really catching birds in the shaded parts of the nets, often just a few feet on some.
It was another healthy catch of 154 new birds, a BTO control Sedge Warbler and a single retrap Blackcap, although we would have liked 300+!

                                       New         Retrap
Blackcap                          6                1
Blue Tit                        7
Chiffchaff                        3
Goldcrest                         1
Grasshopper Warbler      1
Reed Bunting                  12
Reed Warbler                 25
Robin                              7
Sedge Warbler              80
Swallow                         3              
Willow Warbler            11
Wren                              2

Total                              154                  

I've totted up the totals and put them in the table below. It was somewhat similar to last year in that the middle visit (27th July) produced the biggest numbers with more Sedge Warblers and the final visit (25th August) produced the greatest species diversity. 491 new birds compared to 2018's 464.

Sedge Warbler - 323 (1 BTO control, 1 retrap)
Reed Warbler - 55
Willow Warbler - 34
Blackcap - 24 (1 retrap)
Reed Bunting - 22 (1 retrap)
Blue Tit - 7
Robin - 6
Chiffchaff - 5
Grasshopper Warbler - 4
Wren - 4
Swallow - 3
Dunnock -3
Goldcrest -1
Total - 491 new birds

Although we had a great team of 8 for visit three, the first two visits (visit 1 - 13th July) were limited by only having four people present, particularly on visit 2 with two trainees, a C and A dealing with 220 birds which could have been much more. Weather was again difficult and there was a full month between the 2nd and 3rd visits and it twice put off plans of ringing on two consecutive days.
Reed Warbler numbers again peaked at the end of August, maybe they are even better in early September? The catches on the 27th July and 25th August were each record daily catches for Northern Ireland, probably Ireland also. The guys at Traad Point at the north of the Lough have caught 58 Reed Warblers throughout the c10 CES visits so a bumper year for Reed Warbler in the north.
Willow Warbler numbers were almost double this year while Reed Bunting numbers were quite a bit lower after the exceptional catch of 53 new birds on the 11th of August last year. Sedge numbers seemed like they might be a little lower this year after visit one but we caught a record catch of 167 on the 2nd visit, 70 more than our next best days catch.
Just the one control in the form of a Sedge Warbler bearing a BTO ring - it hadn't travelled far, having been ringed at Traad Point CES 10 miles up the shore but pleasing all the same as its our first exchange of birds.

No doubt we will get anther 2-3+ recoveries of birds heading south or on the way back north next spring. We only caught two inter-year retraps and one same year retrap, so we are still missing much of the local breeding population.
Bigger and better next year! (if the Irish weekend weather allows it).

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