Tuesday 22 December 2015

Irish Bird Ringing Data - Thrushes

Since 1975, a total of eight species of Thrush have been ringed in Ireland.  Those include the resident breeders of Blackbird, Song Thrush & Mistle Thrush, the rare breeder, Ring Ouzel and the wintering thrushes of Fieldfare and Redwing.  There are also a couple of very rare species to have been ringed -  White's Thrush and  Grey-cheeked Thrush.  There are a further three species of Thrush that have been recorded in Ireland which include - Hermit Thrush, Siberian Thrush and Swainson's Thrush. 
Three (4) White's Thrush have been trapped in Ireland, with the first at Copeland Bird Observatory (CBO) back in 1993.  The only other ringing records came in 2009 but the data doesn't quite match - certainly two but potentially three were ringed in Ireland in this year.  This is very impressive for an eastern Thrush, with only 12 ringed in the UK and Ireland since 1909. 
Four Grey-cheeked Thrush have been ringed in Ireland, coming in a 10 year period between 1982-91.  The bird caught at Cape Clear in October 1982 was a first for Ireland.  A total of 16 have been caught in the UK and Ireland since 1909. 


The Blackbird is one of the most recognisable species in Ireland, which frequent gardens up and down the island.  Come winter we receive a large influx of birds from northern Europe, which join our resident birds - a few of which will move south for winter.
The Scandinavian birds tend to differ from our resident Blackbirds, often larger, heavier and can have slight differences in appearance i.e. the bill colouration.
The graph below shows a decline in the numbers being trapped before it levels off over the last 20 years.  Copeland BO shows a steady decline in the totals trapped at the Observatory below. 

  1956-65          1966-75          1976-85          1986-95          1996-05
1,235                996                  499                  343                220

The suggested explanation for the decline in numbers caught at the Observatory over the years is the ever increasing bright lights of Belfast and the mainland.  With this, this lighthouse no longer attracts the birds that it used to.  This may account for some of downward trend across the board but probably limited to only a couple of the coastal ringing sites. 
Since 1977 there have been 12,013 trapped in the north and 13,366 in the south.  The most productive year in Ireland was 1985 with 1,429 and the least 2008, with 394. 

 Given the number of Blackbird recoveries, I have separated them into three maps.  The first shows the birds coming in from Britain, the second from Europe and the third, birds leaving Ireland.  The data presented includes only a selection of the recoveries, with many more not available to me.  Between 1983-86 for example there were further recoveries not included - 13 Norway, 2 Netherlands, 3 Denmark, 3 Sweden and 1 Germany. 
A few of the most distant movements include birds to Latvia, Finland and northern Norway, some moving over 2,000km.  Some of the key sites during migration include Helgoland, off the Germany Coast and the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire coast, particularly Spurn Point.   
For both the birds coming in and going out, the majority fit well within the general south west/north east movements, with only a few birds moving in different directions. 
Unfortunately for the Blackbirds, most of the recoveries come from dead birds - cats and cars are the big killers. 

 Blackbirds coming into Ireland from Britain
Blackbirds coming into Ireland from Europe
Blackbirds leaving Ireland

Ring Ouzel

The Ring Ouzel is a rare breeder in Ireland with only a handful of pairs each year in the mountains of the north and west.  It is more commonly seen on passage during the spring and autumn with c25-50 birds a year.  The majority of these records come from the south coast around Cork and Wexford, with a few records every other year in Northern Ireland.
I was fortunate to get my hands on the bird pictured above last year - the first trapped in the north since 2000. 
The graph doesn't present much in the way of trends but the birds were certainly caught on a regular basis in the late seventies to eighties.  At Copeland BO they trapped 21 Ring Ouzel from 1954-1984 and only two in the thirty years since - including the bird above.  Only 17 have been caught across Ireland since 1977 and apparently no recoveries. 


These Nordic beauties spend the winter in Ireland roving around in mixed flocks with Redwings.  The species was traditionally targeted at roost sites and orchards but there has been little focus on the species in recent years. 
A total of 2,432 Fieldfare have been ringed in Ireland since 1975 - the most productive year was in 1985 with 495 birds, 399 of those in the south.  I can't comment on the weather conditions in Scandinavia in 1985 or ringing effort in Ireland but it was also the most productive year for Blackbird, Redwings and Song Thrush.  There were no birds caught in 1994 and 1998. 

The recovery map below is quite misleading in that it would have you believe that these birds are passing through Ireland and wintering in southern Europe.  None of the movements into southern Europe go directly from Ireland but are during subsequent winters, having returned to Scandinavia to breed at least once.  These birds have, for some reason, chosen pastures new to spend the winter months, perhaps simply wind direction at the start of migration. 
A ringing site in Lucan, Dublin during the 1980's was very productive and accounts for 9 of the 17 birds ringed in Ireland that were recovered elsewhere.  These include - 3 to Finland, 2 to Italy, 3 Norway and 1 to France.   This site has managed a number of recaptures of birds over many years, proving some birds are site faithful. 
The species is quite different from Blackbird for example, because few of these birds are caught at coastal bird observatories, but rather, further inland in breeding/wintering locations.  This, may be in part, due to the fact the birds migrate in late autumn when many of the observatories have closed, particularly in Scandinavia. 

Fieldfare recoveries into (green) and out (red) of Ireland 


In Ireland, the majority of the Redwings that hit our shores in winter are supposedly of the Icelandic race 'Turdus iliacus coburni' with a few of the nominate Northern European race ' Turdus iliacus iliacus'
Despite being similar in nature and the obvious spike that correlates with Fieldfare, the two graphs differ, with Redwing fluctuating much more. 
A total of 4,519 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975.  As mentioned above, 1985 seen the most trapped, with 488 and the lowest was only 20 caught in both 2000 & 2001.  I probably would have expected the capture rate between Redwing/Fieldfare to have been greater than roughly 2/1. 

The ringing recoveries show a greater number of the nominate race coming into Ireland but this is probably down to the limited number of ringers in Iceland.  A couple of the Icelandic recoveries are very nice as they refer to birds ringed in the nest, so their birth location is known.  Some of the recoveries out of Ireland are far flung with Finland, Portugal, Poland and Cyprus.  The Portuguese and Cypriot recoveries come in subsequent winters and not directly from Ireland.  It might be possible to presume that the two birds wintering in Portugal are of the Icelandic race and step stone through Ireland - particularly the bird ringed at the Bridges of Ross, Clare.  The bird in Cyprus being so far east, is more likely from the nominate race.  The greatest distance travelled is a minimum of 2,943km from Russia. 
Redwings tend to frequent bird observatories more so than Fieldfare but there are many more of them and they are easily attracted to tape lures. 
Again, not all the recoveries are available and there are at least another 8 from Iceland, 2 Norway, 1 Finland, 1 Netherlands and 1 Fair Isle, Shetland.

Redwing recoveries coming into (green) and out (red) of Ireland

Check out Peter Alkers blog -'Two in a Bush' for nice comparisons of the two races

Song Thrush

A resident breeder with an influx of birds from the continent for the winter.  Similar to the Blackbird, the continental birds can appear different from our resident birds, again often larger & heavier, with more greyish feathering above and whiter below.  Unfortunately this is yet another species that is declining greatly and this is reciprocated in the ringing totals.  It will be interesting to see the ringing results for 2015, as it looks to have been a better breeding season going by the number of juveniles we caught personally. 
A total of 8,401 Song Thrush have been ringed in Ireland since 1975, again 1985 was the best year with 420 and the worst was 2002 with 37. 

The birds coming into Ireland seem to come in two main directions - a westerly passage through east England via Germany and Denmark and then a south west movement pouring in via the Northern Isles of Scotland, possibly from Scandinavia.  There are also then some probable Scottish breeding birds than winter in Ireland.  There is at least one Norwegian recovery but I do not have the precise details of this one.  The bird recovered in Ponferrada, Spain is interesting and is presumably a bird that passed through Ireland (Great Saltee) in late autumn to winter in Iberia. 

Song Thrush recoveries coming into (green) and out (red) of Ireland

Check out Peter Alkers blog -Two in a Bush for nice comparisons of the two races

Mistle Thrush

A large resident Thrush with a handful of immigrants during the winter.  There is a steady decline in the numbers being caught, which correlates with the decreasing populations nationwide.  The species is not easily caught, as they tend to stick to the high trees and open ground.  The best opportunities are around fruiting trees/bushes in winter or chicks in the nest. 
This is one of the few species where there have been many more ringed in the north - 770 than south - 338 since 1977.  In 1987, 92 birds were trapped in Ireland, falling to the lowest catches of 3 in 2012 and 2014. 
There are apparently no recoveries of this species coming into or leaving Ireland. 

Sunday 13 December 2015

Early December Ringing

This morning Steve, Thom and I met up with a group from Copeland Bird Observatory at a winter ringing site near Antrim.  The site has been used in previous winters for training sessions and this time around there were five trainers and four trainees.  It was a frosty morning with the mercury hitting -2 °C but there were plenty of birds about.  The site has a wealth of fruit trees and berry bushes, which attracts Thrushes in decent numbers with c50 Redwing, c40 Blackbird, c10 Song Thrush, c10 Fieldfare and a couple of Mistle Thrush around this morning.  The feeders brought in plenty of tits and finches but the a real draw was an area of winter cereal cover which held c35 Linnet, c30 Chaffinch, c25 House Sparrow, c15 Lesser Redpoll plus a few other bits and pieces - a proper net combination here should work well in the next sessions. 

                             Sparrowhawk                           SF

It was a productive morning with 84 birds processed of 16 different species.  One of the first birds to hit the nets was a nice male Sparrowhawk flying low around the feeding station.  A Grey Wagtail amongst the Apple trees was unexpected but gladly welcomed by one of the trainees.  All four trainees managed to get new species, including two who got multiple new birds.  We only managed to trap two species of Thrush but 11 new Blackbirds is very good, a few of which were certainly of a continental origin.  We wrapped up at 12.30 just before the rain started. 

Ringing Totals 13/12/2015                                     
                                        New       Retrap           
Blackbird                        11              2 
Blue Tit                            8               2
Chaffinch                        22              1         
Coal Tit                            2               3              
Dunnock                          2
Goldcrest                         1
Goldfinch                         1
Great Tit                           6               3
Grey Wagtail                   1
Lesser Redpoll                4
Linnet                               7
Long-tailed Tit                                 1
Redwing                           1                                                             
Robin                                2               2
Sparrowhawk                  1
Wren                                1
Total                                70              14  

On Tuesday morning Ken hosted Steve for a bit of training in his back garden and were joined by John later in the morning.  The morning was an ideal weather window with dry, calm conditions, plus it wasn't freezing for the ringers! 

They caught a large number of birds and had to close a couple of nets in order to cope - hence Johns arrival.  A total of 102 birds were processed, with perhaps 35% of these having been caught before.  There are a few nice birds in the garden at the moment including two Brambling and two wintering Blackcaps.  Unfortunately the former weren't caught but they might stick around with the c50 Chaffinch.  The Sparrowhawk ringed last time out has continued to visit daily and was retrapped. 

                                                               Sparrowhawk                                                           SF

Ringing Totals 08/12/2015                                     
Blackbird                        3
Blackcap                         2
Blue Tit                          11
Chaffinch                       32             
Coal Tit                           9                             
Dunnock                         1
Goldcrest                        1
Goldfinch                       24
Great Tit                         18                                                             
Sparrowhawk                  1
Total                               102     

Monday 7 December 2015

Irish Bird Ringing Data - Crests and Tits

Five species of Tit have been ringed in Ireland since 1975 and one of those I have included by name default - Bearded Tit (Reedling).  The other four are widespread breeders - Blue, Coal, Great and Long-tailed Tit.  The only other species of Tit recorded in Ireland that has not been ringed is Marsh Tit, following a short lived unofficial introduction of birds in a woodland in the south. 
Only two species of Crest have been ringed/recorded in Ireland - Goldcrest, a widespread breeder and Firecrest, an uncommon passage migrant.  A close relative from North America has also been recorded - Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with one being trapped at Cape Clear BO in 2013.  It is very rare in the Western Palearctic with only two previous records which came from Iceland in the 90's.  Given that only one RcK has been ringed, I won't go into any detail.


Firecrest are almost annual along the south coast on migration, but records have tailed off a bit in recent years.  2015 proved to be a very productive year with 40+ birds recorded between Sept-Nov.  The previous years were less so, with potentially just the one in 2014, 12 in 2013, three in 2012 and two in 2011.  Generally most of the records come in the Autumn but in the odd year, such as 2013, they came in the spring.  One or two birds will also winter in Ireland but these records are few and far between.  Firecrest is a rare bird in Northern Ireland.
The graph below shows a trend of greater encounters with birds through the 80's and early 90's with much fewer records since 2008, with only one record.  A total of 79 were ringed in this period in the south, with six in the north.  There were at least seven ringed in Ireland before this period but again I only have partial records for then.       


The Goldcrest is a common breeder throughout Irelands forests and they are one of the few species who inhabit the dense coniferous plantations.  The majority of the birds are caught at coastal migration points and offshore islands in the spring and autumn.  They are typically short lived, averaging about two years, so the majority caught are first year birds.
There was a huge invasion this autumn, when Goldcrests hit Britain in their thousands, with perhaps 100+ bearing rings from Fennoscandia, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and the Baltic States.  Ireland didn't seem to feel the effects and ourselves (CCRG) on the north coast actually caught less than last year with increased effort!
Going by the graph below it would seem that these eruptions have happened before, particularly in 1989 when 1,825 were ringed, followed by the second most productive year of 1988 with 1,182.  There was probably association in these two years, with a good spring following a bountiful autumn.  2009 was the quietest year with only 91 caught across Ireland.
A total of 19,535 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975. 

The recovery map below shows a strong correlation of birds using the Irish Sea islands and the south coast of England but that is where the majority of the ringers assemble!  I am surprised that there is only a single record coming from the north, as I thought there would have been quite a few more.  Copeland Bird Observatory is a focal point but it is difficult to say if these birds are coming out of Ireland or if they are coming from Scandinavia/Scotland without more ringing records.  Certainly when the birds pass through/leave Ireland they all seem to move south/east, with all recoveries going to Britain, although the results may be biased as I discounted all inter-Ireland movements which may have shown otherwise. 

       Goldcrest recoveries - green in, red out

Bearded Tit

As of 2011, Bearded Tits returned to Ireland as a breeding bird after a 26 year absence.  They again bred in Co. Wexford in 2012 & 2013 and may have done so in 2014-15 but I do not have the data - there have certainly been birds present.  The species seems to come in small fluxes along the east coast, with birds recorded in Louth in 1966, Wicklow 1974-1985 (breeding proved in 1976 and 1982-1985) and further records in Wexford in 1989 and Cork 1979-81.
The only ringing to target the species took place in the early 80's and ceased when breeding was confirmed in 1985. 

Long-tailed Tit

A tiny resident breeder, that spends much of the year in family groups, often numbering over a dozen birds.  During ringing sessions, it is often the case that if you catch one or two of the family group, the rest will join them in the pockets of the mist nets, responding to their relatives calls. 
The numbers caught from year to year is very staggered with some striking differences.  The species notoriously does not fair well in prolonged cold spells and may go in some way to explain the changes but undoubtedly not the only reason.  The trends between north and south show the complete opposite at times and this suggests that ringing effort may be a major factor.
The greatest number ringed in one year was in 1975 with 383, with the lowest coming in 2001 with 72.  A total of 7,788 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975. 

In general most of our Tit species are rather sedentary and this is the reason that there are so few recoveries.  From the data available to me, I found only two movements in or out of Ireland. 
The first was a Great Tit ringed at Portmore Lough, Co. Antrim, that found its way to Greater Manchester four years later, unfortunately succumbing to a window.  The second was a fast moving Blue Tit that made its way from Bardsey Bird Observatory to Cape Clear Bird Observatory, covering 354 km in 18 days.  I also included two interesting inter-Ireland movements.  One was a Great Tit moving from Dublin to County Tyrone and the other was a Coal Tit moving 268m km from Cape Clear BO to County Offaly in the midlands - potentially an immigrant to Ireland. 

                                                     Tit recoveries - Green in, red out and blue inter

Great Tit

Another common breeding species across Ireland, generally in wooded areas.  The majority are caught at feeding stations, plus many pullus ringed in nest boxes. 
There appears to a general trend of increasing numbers of Great Tit being ringed since 1975.  The lowest total came in 1978 with 266 birds trapped, rising to the most productive year in 2014 with 1,441.  A total of 31,566 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975.

Blue Tit

A species similar to Great Tit in habits and trapped in a similar manner.  They are a delightful looking bird but are feisty little things and can be tricky to extract from mist nets.
Overall the trend seems relatively steady, although there are many more peaks and a few troughs.  1985 was the most productive year with 2,140 and 1978 the least with 690.  A total of 53,232 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975. 

Coal Tit

The majority of these records will refer to the Irish race of Coal Tit, Periparus ater hibernicus.  British and Continental Coal Tits do appear on the offshore islands and coastal watch points in autumn but no distinction has been made for birds ringed.
Generally the number of Coal Tits ringed seems steady with only one large dip (256 & 214) in 2006-2007 and a large spike (933) in 2012.  The majority of Coal Tits are ringed around feeding stations and the numbers really increase in prolonged bad weather in winter, when the birds descend from the coniferous plantations into Irish gardens. 
A total of 9,193 Coal Tits have been ringed in Northern Ireland since 1977, with 7,588 in the south.

Friday 4 December 2015

Late Autumn into Winter

After such a dry and calm spell through early/mid autumn, late autumn made up for any short comings on the expected and it has been abysmal.  We only managed one session in the last few weeks of November and the conditions for that were breezy.  We kicked off the winter ringing yesterday morning at Portstewart Strand, which will be the last visit to the site in 2015.

                                       Skylark                                JC

Steve was successful in his recent C permit application and now, armed with a couple of nets and a bunch of rings, I'm sure he will be very active over the winter.
To help him get set up with his first ringing site, John, along with Thom headed out west, to Steve's family farm near Gortin in central Tyrone, on Sunday the 22nd of November.  John had first visited the site back in March and did a little tester ringing, catching a number of Chaffinch and tits.
 As I mentioned earlier it was a bit breezy and damp at times but still workable and safe.  They set two nets - one through a hedgerow and another in an area of woodland. 

                      Treecreeper              JC

There were large numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing feeding on haws through the hedgerows which resulted in four Redwing being caught.  The catch was decent for the conditions and coverage and it could prove to be a decent site for Steve to work.  The hedgerow net caught the majority of the birds, with the woodland net only chipping in with a couple of birds after 11.30.

Ringing Totals 22/11/2015                                      
                                       New        Retrap           
Blackbird                        2               
Blue Tit                           4              
Coal Tit                           1               1                             
Great Tit                         3               2           
Redwing                         4                    
Treecreeper                    1                                                                            
Wren                               1                

Total                               16              3              


Yesterday, John and I took the morning off work and we had a last bash at Portstewart Strand for the 2015 season.  We has hoped to get the last session in before the end of November but the weather put a stop to that.  The conditions were favourable with complete cloud cover and light winds.  The wind did pick up to around 10-12mph for a couple of short spells but generally stayed around 3-4mph. 
We arrived around an hour before sunrise and set a couple of nets each in east and west rides plus further nets through the open gorse rides and the alders. 
It was very quite overhead with little to get excited about.  As usual there seemed to be quite a few Blackbirds and Song thrushes calling pre dawn, followed by the Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens.  There weren't many finches on show now that the feeding station is gone and the berries are all but gone.

                                                Reed Bunting                                                JC

The catch for December was good with some quality birds including a possible wintering Blackcap, two Reed Bunting and one Redwing. We also caught another Skylark, making it our 5th this year, adding to the three last year.  From 2013 back to 1975 there had only been 88 ringed in Northern Ireland, the last one coming in the year 2000. 

Ringing Totals 03/12/2015                                      
                                       New        Retrap           
Blackcap                         1
Blue Tit                           2
Bullfinch                         1               
Chaffinch                        1              
Coal Tit                                             2                             
Dunnock                                           3
Goldcrest                                          1           
Linnet                              5
Redwing                          1
Reed Bunting                  2
Robin                                                2                                                          
Skylark                            1
Song Thrush                   2                                                                                                                      

Total                               16               8              

We have been given permission to use a similar site on the other side of the estuary, at Castlerock Golf Club and we plan to do a little work there soon, to make some net rides.  The benefit of this site is that the Sea Buckthorn plants are female (supposedly) and are berry laden.  The concentration of birds tends to be much higher here into late winter because of the fruit and it usually has a few Fieldfare and Blackcap knocking about. 

A new project we will be initiating over the winter period is setting up a couple of new nest box schemes on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland, following the completion of Kens long-term studies on titmice at the University campus in Coleraine.
We have already gained permission for one woodland and we will be searching for another ideal location.  The hope is to provide tempting accommodation for Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers that pass along the east coast in Spring before they flit over to Scotland where they breed in Dumfries and Galloway. 
It is an ambitious plan given that Redstarts last attempted to breed in 2011 (and failed) in County Kerry and before that, 2003.  Pied Flycatchers haven't bred (proven) since 2003 in County Wicklow and before that 1999.
They have bred along the north east coast before, including a pair of Pied Flycatchers in a nest box in Breen Oakwood in 1985.  This was the first successful breeding attempt recorded in Ireland and in the same year, two pairs attempted to breed in boxes in County Wicklow, but failed.  Nest boxes had only been installed in Breen Oakwood in 1984, following 120 boxes being installed, two years previous across three oak woodlands in Wicklow.  So the idea works anyway!    
There is a lack of substantial habitat in Northern Ireland which the species favour, but also, with the absence of Woodpeckers and veteran trees, there are insufficient nesting holes.  The limited holes that do exist, are occupied by resident breeders such as Blue Tits in early spring, before the RS and PF reach our shores. 
To combat the problem of early occupancy by titmice, we plan to use the tried and tested method of placing nest boxes in groups of four/five.  The idea is that Blue and Great Tits are quite territorial and will not nest in close proximity of their own kind, thus leaving one or two boxes unoccupied for the target species to inhabit.  We may also remove the front of a few boxes and place them in more concealed locations to attract the likes of Robins or Spotted Flycatchers. 
It is project that is unlikely to be successful but you certainly have no chance if you don't try!

Friday 27 November 2015

Irish Bird Ringing Data - Pied, Red-breasted, Spotted and Collard Flycatcher

Going back to at least 1975, there have been four species of Flycatcher (by name) ringed in Ireland.  These are Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Collard Flycatcher, which is a real Irish rarity.  I won't go into any detail for Collard Flycatcher because there has only been one ringed in this period, coming in 2010.   

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatchers are generally passage migrants in Ireland, which breed sporadically, with 1 or 2 pairs some years.  Possibly the last recorded breeding attempts were back in 2003 and 1999.  The birds appear in small numbers around the Irish coast during autumn migration with Cape Clear being a reliable spot.  The main concentrations are on the south coast, with Northern Ireland receiving one or two birds, every other year.  This is also replicated in the ringing totals with only 5 having been ringed in the north since 1977, compared to 361 in the south. 
Saltee Bird Observatory was a prolific spot for Pied Flycatchers in the early 60's with 53 ringed between 1960-62, with 23 caught in 1961.  If I manage to source more data from the bird observatories pre 1977, I'm sure we will see quite a few more caught in this period. 

Great Saltee (Saltee BO) was also a focal point for ringed birds coming into/passing Ireland with three of the five Irish recoveries since 1975 (one from 60's).  The two birds from Wales and the bird from the Netherlands are birds ringed in the nest, that were caught on the coast of Ireland during subsequent spring migrations.  The final two were caught during autumn with the bird from the Isle of May heading south and the bird from the Scilly Isles, heading in the wrong direction, four days after ringing.

Pied Flycatcher recoveries

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher numbers have reduced greatly since the turn of the century in Ireland and this is replicated in the number ringed each year.  The most productive year was 1990 with 212 birds ringed compared to 2007, when only 11 were caught.  These numbers are probably artificially lowered with the inactive bird observatories on the south coast, with minimal ringing activities. 

The stand out recovery was a bird ringed in Cashel, Co. Tipperary on 23/06/1984 and found dead 3.5 years later in Escola na Cidade de Kuimba, Angola.  At the time this was only the third Spotted Flycatcher from the UK & Ireland to be recovered in Africa and the first for Angola.  The recovery from mainland Europe refers to a bird born in Western Germany in June 1987, that decided to take a detour West on its first migration. 

The Irish Sea bird observatories are important for the recoveries and also account for a large proportion of the birds ringed.  Saltee Bird Observatory for example caught 274 Spotted Flycatchers between 1960-1963 with the best year of 90 birds ringed in 1960.  For recoveries, Saltee BO has notched up at least seven recoveries (in & out), Bardsey BO - four and the Calf of Man BO - three.  

 Spotted Flycatcher Recoveries in Western Europe
 Spotted Flycatcher recovery in Angola

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatchers are irregular passage migrants in Ireland, with the majority hitting the south coast.  A total of 22 have been ringed in Ireland since 1975, with none in Northern Ireland.  At least a further 9 were ringed in the south going back to 1960 but this data was taken from limited records.  Quite a few of these came from Saltee Bird Observatory, which seemed to be prolific for Flycatchers by Irish standards.
Numbers appear to have reduced in recent times but this may be down to the fact that there are no longer any bird observatories operating in the south. 

The only control between 1975-2015 actually happened just last month, with a bird moving through Skokholm Bird Observatory on the 6th of October and appearing in a mist net near Loop Head, Co. Clare, eight days later.  This was just the third recovery of a Red-breasted Flycatcher between Britain and another country. 
Check out the Skokholm Blog for more details -

Red-breasted Flycatcher recovery

Saturday 21 November 2015

Irish Ringing Data - Goldfinch and Greenfinch

Over the past few months I have been compiling all Ireland ringing information into a single data set.  I have been taking information from various sources, including the BTO online ringing reports for the period of 2007-2014 and Irish Bird Journals covering back to 1975.  Before this date the data is very patchy and I have only been able to incorporate bits and pieces.  I have extracted the odd record from old Irish bird reports but these tend to be where there is mention of scarcities/rarities being trapped. 

Another source of information I am currently seeking is old Bird Observatory reports - pre 1977.  Thus far I have only managed to source reports for Rathlin Island BO and Tory Island BO from the 60's and will get Copeland BO records in the next week or two.  I have yet to get any feedback for Saltee BO, Cape Clear BO, Loop Head BO and Malin Head BO, so if you have any contacts, please let me know. 
As the data, pre 1975, is limited, I will only focus only scarcities and rarities in that period.  The current Irish ringing species list I have accrued stands at over 270 species but I expect this to rise a little further with the addition of a few more yanks.

The data of course is not perfect with overlooked late submissions, altered records, missing data, mistakes by previous editors and my own mistakes.  This is unlikely to change for the foreseeable, until the BTO finally track back and digitise all the historic ringing data.... which might take a decade or two. 
The data should therefore be taken at face value - it isn't perfect but is representative and fit for purpose.

I plan to filter the information out, post by post on the blog, covering a few species at a time.  I will try and graph the 'All Ireland' totals from 1975, with North and South separate from 1977.  At this stage I will focus on passerines, near passerines and birds of prey.  I will also map the recoveries of these groups coming into and out of Northern Ireland (but no inter Irish movements).  I have restricted myself to the North at the moment because the dataset is much smaller and my spare time isn't limitless! 

The data will go in someway to present the population trends in some species but for some species it is flawed.  Changes in techniques, improved equipment, the use of tape lures, the number of ringers & their effort, the closure of Bird Observatories, BTO periodic species targets (i.e. Swallow Roosts, Sedge Warblers in Ireland) and changes in birds behaviour (Finch species visiting feeders for example) etc. all have a huge affect, meaning it is not truly representative. 
The BTO has national standardised programmes in place such as Constant Effort Site (CES) scheme and Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) scheme which are fantastic for assessing population dynamics, along with the Nest Record Scheme (NRS). 


As a ringer in my mid 20's and in the game for c4 years, I have always known Goldfinch to be a common bird and one that is caught in big numbers.  But this wasn't always the case and many ringers still remember when it was a nice catch.  The graph below really highlights the large increase in birds being caught, which is generally a reflection of the increase in the population.  In 1982, only 6 Goldfinch were ringed in Ireland, compared to the best year of 1538 birds in 2013. 
Over 10,000 have been ringed since 1975 and this figure should rapidly increase with todays yearly totals. 

The controls/recoveries of Goldfinch into and out of Northern Ireland also show a similar trend in terms of dates.  The majority of these mapped below have occurred after 2007.
With the exception of the one bird coming in from Scotland, the rest show a very similar migration route.  The Calf of Man Bird Observatory is central to the route with 2 controls coming during spring migration.  Copeland Bird Observatory is also key as a staging site for the birds heading south east, accounting for four birds in late autumn. 
Those displayed are the only ones available to me at this time. 

Goldfinch movements into (green) and out (red) of Northern Ireland


The Greenfinch unfortunately is experiencing an opposite trend, with a large reduction in population.  The finger can firmly be pointed to the disease Trichomonosis for the crash.  Greenfinch were formerly one of the most common species ringed, which is represented in the map below.  These days however, they are much reduced - in 1991 2474 were ringed In Ireland and only 313 in 2014.
Over 46,000 have been ringed since 1975.

The mapped recoveries below do not show any particular trend but do highlight that many more birds are recovered in Britain, with the much greater density of ringers.  The dates and age stages of the recoveries are very interesting and in general show a similar theme of Greenfinches coming to winter in Ireland and returning to Britain to breed.  They are also the opposite to Goldfinches in that the majority of these recoveries are from the 80's and early 90's, with only one in the 00's (2007/2008).
The Calf of Man BO is again focal, with three different birds being trapped there on migration. 

Greenfinch movements into (green) and out (red) of Northern Ireland

I must also add a quick thank you to people who have assisted me in getting information - Dr Ken Perry, for access to his extensive ornithological library, Niall Tierney (the current editor of the Irish Ringing Report) and Niall T Keogh from Birdwatch Ireland, Neal Warnock (RSPB NI) for the Rathlin data and Peter Phillips for the Tory records. 
NTK, Neal and Peter are all big patch birders and you can check out information for the former two at http://patchbirdingireland.blogspot.co.uk/  and the later on his Tory Island Bird Blog - http://toryislandbirdblog.blogspot.co.uk/
Check out http://dublinbaybirds.blogspot.co.uk/ for some of N Tierney's ringing exploits in the South.

I have not given permission for any of these pictures, graphs, diagrams or the data itself to be copied.  If you are interested in something in particular, please get in touch.

Richard D