Monday, 26 October 2020

Waders and Farmland Birds

With the wind whipping up overnight my plan to mist net some owls at my farmland bird winter ringing site yesterday morning (25th October) went out the window so I decided to take a spin around the turf lawns along Lough Foyle instead to try for some waders.

On arrival @ 05.45 there was very little about and the sky was starting to break in the east. I switched on the ‘Killer Redshank’ call and a few birds started to appear. I dazzled a couple of Dunlin and a Jack Snipe before a Little Stint dropped in. It gave me the run around for five minutes and it was getting very bright but I tried standing still beside the tape and it walked right up to me! 

Little Stint

This was the first Little Stint ringed in Northern Ireland since at least 1977, possibly the second ever following one at Copeland Bird Observatory in 1963. Jack Snipe are also irregularly ringed with this one being just the 26th ringed since 1977 in Northern Ireland. 

Jack Snipe

The previous visit with mist nets & dazzling on the 21st September produced 25 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover & 1 Redshank. 

Ringed Plover

After the waders I nipped over to our Myroe farmland bird site to open up the net rides for the winter. There were lots of thrushes buzzing through the hedgerows which were loaded with berries but it was too windy for nets along there. The lure of the site are the heaps of dumped seed from local farmers which attracts a nice range of species later in the winter & a disgusting number of ๐Ÿ€ rats๐Ÿ€ but I’m hoping these might attract birds of prey.

With good numbers around I got a little distracted and put up 2 sheltered nets, once the rides were cleared and caught 49 new & 1 retrap.

Blackbird -  1

Blue Tit - 7

Chaffinch -  4

Dunnock -  1

Great Tit -  2 (1)

Grey Wagtail -  1

Lesser Redpoll - 2

Linnet  - 1

Pied Wagtail - 1

Robin - 4

Tree Sparrow - 24

Wren - 1

Tree Sparrow

The two wagtail species were a bit of a surprise but there is a sheugh just beside one of the nets and may add another dimension to ringing at the site. The 24 Tree Sparrows was our largest catch yet and I would estimate there were around 100 present. One of three Buzzards present managed to fly through a net and leave a big hole.

I then received a text from Theo Campbell to say that a Cattle Egret was back on my home turf of the Bann Estuary, so a rapid take down was executed & I was watching the bird within 30 mins. This was the 233rd bird species ever recorded in the Bann Estuary & a lifer for me.

All in all a very productive morning and a promising start to the winter ringing.

I will back track with some updates from the years ringing... but it may take a while!

Friday, 23 October 2020

Late December at Castlerock 2019

I've just noticed I didn't post this one - here it 10 months later

With a dodgy forecast mid-morning on the 7th and nobody else keen to head out, I opted to go for a shorter early morning session to try and catch some more Snipe and the Jack Snipe that keep have eluded me thus far. I set up a six net 'V' in the corner of the marsh before first light and waited for the Snipe to return from their nocturnal foraging in the fields. While I was there I stuck up a wader net along the shore hoping that some of the Sanderling might bundle in under darkness.  


The wader net was a waste of time with a big falling tide, the net was soon well away from the waters edge and didn't come close to catching anything. I did come close to catching a few Snipe on the shore with my torch but without a landing net, it was tough - one bird I had managed to get down on one knee beside it but it flew off when my hand was within 30cm.


The catch of Snipe was poor with just a single bird and a Reed Bunting. When walking through the marsh it was clear that there certainly weren't any great numbers around with just 6/7. I've counted up to 69 Common Snipe and 5 Jack Snipe in this marsh so hopefully numbers will climb as the winter goes on.


The weather held up and was actually quite nice all morning so I left the nets a little longer to see if anything else was around. On approach to the net I noticed a dart of blue and a bird of prey in pursuit on the inside of the 'V'. The Kingfisher veered left and was caught while the female Sparrowhawk continued to where she bounced out of one net and into the other at the tip of the 'V'. I was able to run and catch her before she slipped out of this one too. Not your regular duo to be caught in a net!

The Snipe marsh

The feeding station amongst the scrub at Castlerock has really been bringing in the birds with counts of over 100 birds present on different occasions with flocks of up to 55+ Greenfinch, dozens of Goldfinches, dozens of Linnets and a few other visitors. Chaffinch numbers still remain very low with just two or three individuals and the Fieldfare are still absent with just two present on the last visit.

The feeding station

On the 15th with yet another dodgy forecast, I waited until the rain finished around 8am before I headed over to the site. The weather was then very sunny and bright but still chilly. The catch was very slow with only a handful of birds in the 3 nets over the first couple of hours. The bright sun then moved around the horizon and the nets were finally shaded and birds began to enter the nets around the feeders. I was short on time so had to pack up but the birds were very active and a big catch was on the cards if I had kept the nets open. In the end I caught 29 new birds and 2 retraps, including 22 Greenfinch.

Castlerock Golf Club -  7th December - 15th December 2019

                         New      Retrap
Blackbird           1
Blue Tit             
Bullfinch            2        
Chaffinch          1
Goldfinch          3             1
Greenfinch       22
Kingfisher         1
Reed Bunting    1
Snipe                 1     
Song Thrush      
Sparrowhawk    1
Wren                                1


The Greenfinch numbers are very pleasing and the catch of 22 on the 15th marks our largest ever single day catch. By the looks of it on social media, the Greenfinch has had a bumper year across the UK after decades of decline - fingers crossed.


Friday, 2 October 2020

Lough Neagh Ringing Recoveries/Controls

We've taken the step to shift to Google MyMaps which allows the production of interactive control maps where you can zoom in/out and click on each of the controls/recoveries for details.

Follow the link below to check out map number one which includes the acro warbler controls from our Lough Neagh Ringing site.

The controls tab will be updated in the coming months.... and perhaps some actual blog posts! 

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Sandwich Tern Colour Ringing Donegal 2020

In June 2019 we began our Sandwich Tern colour ringing project with the first cohort of 30 ringed. In the first autumn (2019) we got six recoveries of five birds:
Three travelled the Ayrshire coast of Scotland (one bird was recorded at two sites)
One travelled to Rhos Point, Conwy, Wales
One travelled to County Wexford

As Sandwich Terns do not reach sexual maturity until 3-4 years old, we don't expect to see the first returning birds back until 2022 but it will be interesting if any non-breeding birds return sooner.

Sandwich Tern 569 ringed on 15th June 2020

The plan for this year (2020) was to really focus on colour ringing only and not place any focus on metal ringing birds. To avoid excess disturbance on the islet which supports a few thousand breeding birds (Sandwich Tern, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard) we are limited to an hours visit to land and depart. Unfortunately, as everywhere, the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered plans with tight lockdown restrictions meaning travel to Donegal and bird ringing was not permissible until June. The visit took place on June 15th but with social distancing measures in place, only two people were present, myself and Martin the NPWS Ranger. With very low water levels in the lagoon we had a new mode of transport with two paddleboards which worked really well. 39 well developed chicks were ringed 531-570 which now means we have 69 Sandwich Terns bearing colour rings.

We are very keen for your sightings so if you see any of our birds, please send the sightings to Richard.Donaghey89(at)


All the colour ringed Sandwich Terns are marked at the Inch Island Wildfowl Reserve on a small islet in the centre of the man-made lagoon. The site is owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service who enable access to the islet and we are thankful for their purchase of the BTO metal rings and colour rings.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

2019 Bann Estuary Bird and Ringing Report

The 2019 Bann Estuary Bird and Ringing Report is now available to read.

To check it out, follow the link below or click on the 2019 report link at the top of the side bar (right).!ApJre-YC-2Pry2q2eGHecsxmrH6T


Thursday, 5 December 2019

Shifting Shores

The time has come again when we shift shores from the east (north) shore of the Bann Estuary to the west shore at Castlerock Golf Club. As usual the focus here are the nets set amongst the millions of Sea Buckthorn berries which support a nice mix of finches and thrushes.
This year we have finally set up a feeding station with mixed seed and nyjer on offer.
The first two visits were only sample catches whilst we prepared the net rides and set up the feeding station, with the later two visits being more focused on ringing. We have still got two of the net rides to clear but the catches have been steady that we haven't found the time as yet.

Snow Bunting

The star bird so far was a Snow Bunting which was caught at first light not far from the feeders. This is the first to be ringed in Northern Ireland since 1998 with possibly as few as 13 ringed in all of Ireland since 1952. 


There is a fantastic small marsh close by which I've recorded as holding up to 69 Common Snipe and 5 Jack Snipe. On one of the visits we set some nets along the edge of the pool in the dark hoping to catch some of the Snipe on return to the pool after feeding in the nearby fields at night. We only caught a single Snipe and flushed another 7/8. There were at least 3 Jack Snipe present also and with a little net rejig, we have more luck next time. 


The other catches have been healthy with lots of Bullfinches and good numbers of Song Thrushes present. What has been noticeable in their absence are the Fieldfares with just one seen and caught when the wintering population can number up to 600 and is normally around 100 birds daily. Chaffinches too are absent with one caught and not many more present, usually there are 30-40 and regularly caught.
The feeders have attracted in some Goldfinches and Linnets with a few caught and they will hopefully continue to attract more birds into the spring - perhaps not too many tit species! 

Castlerock Golf Club - November - 1st December 2019

                      New      Retrap
Blackbird          6           2
Blue Tit             3           1
Bullfinch          15          6              
Chaffinch          1
Dunnock           4           1
Fieldfare            1
Goldcrest           2
Goldfinch         12          1
Greenfinch        6
Linnet               10
Robin                 4           1
Snipe                  1
Snow Bunting    1
Song Thrush      9
Wren                   3

Total                  78        12                

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).

Friday, 1 November 2019

Copeland Bird Observatory 25-27th October 2019

I embarked on just my third weekend stay of the year to Copeland Bird Observatory on Friday 25th of October accompanied by Pete, Emily and Ed. This is pencilled in to be the final weekend visit of the season so there was lots of work to be done to get the Observatory closed own for the winter e.g. closing up the traps and bringing catching boxes, storing the bedding/pillows etc.

With a forecast of pretty much strong westerlies all weekend and very little having been seen/ringed during the previous 7 days we weren't going in overly optimistic - but at least it was sunny!

The nets were very quiet with a handful of new birds over the weekend but we did hit gold with a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Yellow-browed Warbler

On Friday night we went out for a spot of dazzling and had a few close misses with Redshank but did manage to catch a Curlew, the first to be ringed here in 32 years and a retrap Oystercatcher which was ringed the year previous on the island.


Birds of prey put on a good show with a ring-tailed Hen Harrier quartering the island throughout the weekend and almost flying in to a couple of mist nets. It was joined in the sky by up to four Buzzards at a time and at one stage we had a Sparrowhawk swirling about with them.

Other passage was very limited with a single Redwing, 17 Whooper Swans, 18 Skylark, 1 Lesser Redpoll and the regular cohort of wintering birds. No sea watching was done but there were plenty of Gannets, auks, Kittiwakes passing and one Great Northern Diver was noted passing towards Belfast Lough. Seven Carrion Crow is a good count for Northern Ireland.


The Yellow-browed Warbler on Copeland Bird Observatory 
2019 has proved to be yet another Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) year on CBO for what was once a very rare vagrant for the observatory and Northern Ireland as a whole. Two birds were recorded this season, one sighted on the 11th of October and a second trapped and ringed on 26th October, the 12th & 13th records for CBO. 
Figure 1: Yellow-browed Warbler (Richard Donaghey) 
The Yellow-browed Warbler breeds across Russia from the Pacific coast in the east, as far south as NE China, across Siberia and Mongolia to just west of the Ural Mountains into ‘European Russia’. The majority of the population winter in south-east Asia in the likes of Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal etc. but a trend of increasing numbers is being witnessed across Europe, North Africa, Middle East and even records into West Africa. This has certainly been the case for Northern Ireland, but why? 
There are a number of theories for the increasing presence of Yellow-browed Warblers such as: Reverse Migration (misorientation) – the birds travel in the opposite direction expected, an increased breeding population west of the Ural mountains and a shift in wintering grounds – where birds in natural dispersion have successfully wintered (e.g. in England), made the return journey to their breeding grounds and have become genetically programmed to repeat this successful route and pass it on to future generations. An exciting new project, ‘Project Yellow-browed’, a collaboration between three universities across Germany, Holland and England, aims to study the movements from Europe, into, across and onwards from Britain, of the Yellow-browed Warbler and other reverse-migrants. They will be using a range of tracking technologies, but focused on fixed radio telemetry, based on the very successful Motus system used in North America, with Motus telemetry stations located along the east & south coast of Britain, mostly at our fellow BOC Bird Observatories. The project may be further extended in the three partner countries and there is further interest across Scandinavia, Belgium, Russia and Bulgaria. 
The first three Yellow-browed Warblers to be recorded in Northern Ireland were on Copeland Bird Observatory, the first of these in 1957, followed by 1962 and 1974. Pre 2010 there had been one further CBO record and six more across Northern Ireland. From 2010 the occurrence of YBW increases substantially and a further 24 records have been accepted over the 9 years, nine of those on CBO. 
Figure 2: The distribution of records of Yellow-browed Warbler across Northern Ireland 
All but three of the 34 records have come in October with a core period of passage around the 13th October (+/- 2 days). Two of the records were on the 23rd and 25th of September in the magic Sycamore tree in Antrim Gardens, Portrush which held a YBW four years running between 2013-2016. On the 11th of March 2017, CBO recorded Northern Ireland’s first spring bird which may well have wintered further to the south (Cornwall could be a good call) and was making its way back to western Russia or further east.  
Yellow-browed Warbler Records on Copeland Bird Observatory 
1957 – One trapped & ringed on 12th October (CBO) 
1962 – One trapped & ringed on 13th October (CBO) 
1974 – One trapped & ringed on 13th October (Neville McKee, Peter Bain) 
1992  One observed & photographed on 21st October (Anthony McGeehan, Dave Allen) 
2010  One trapped & ringed on 13th October (David Galbraith, Philip Galbraith) 
2011  One trapped & ringed on 2nd October (Neville McKee, Peter McCarron) 
2014  One trapped & ringed on 4th October (Ian Humphreys, David Stirling, Peter Smyth) 
2016  One trapped & ringed on 29-30th October (Richard Donaghey, Steve Fyffe, David Stirling) 
(although not in the observatories recording zone, a YBW was sighted a few hundred metres away on Big Copeland on 10th October)  
2017  One trapped & ringed on 11th March (Chris Acheson, David Stirling, Peter Smyth) 
             One trapped & ringed on 12th October (David Galbraith, Philip Galbraith) 
             One trapped & ringed on 14th October (David Galbraith, Philip Galbraith) 
2019  One observed on 11th October (David Galbraith, Philip Galbraith) 
             One trapped & ringed on 26th October (Richard Donaghey, Ed McGuiggan) 
Figure 3: Yellow-browed Warbler (David Stirling) 
As we stand at the end of the 2019 season, Yellow-browed Warbler is now a much-anticipated vagrant (now migrant?) each autumn on CBO and more likely to be encountered than some of previous regularly encountered scarce birds such as Garden Warbler, Redstart and Ring Ouzel. With sufficient island coverage in the 20’s, it is likely that numbers will continue to rise and the 2017 record of three birds surely wont last long. The Yellow-browed Warbler is still a very desirable bird in Northern Ireland and if you’d like to find your own, there is no better place than Copeland Bird Observatory!   
Thanks to Derek Charles for providing the records of Yellow-browed Warblers for Northern Ireland.