Wednesday 27 May 2015

Springwell Forest 27/05/2015 + Dippers

Todays visit to Springwell Forest was to attempt to catch the 3 Cuckoos spotted by John and Ken earlier in the week.  The three of us were on site for 7am and set a couple of nets along a track through low scrub, with a decoy Cuckoo and tape lure (with endorsement).  The weather was overcast and a little breezy.

                        Sedge Warbler               © JC

On arrival we were greeted to the sound of lots of Warblers with Grasshopper, Sedge and Willow Warbler plus some Whitethroat amongst the regenerating conifer plantations full of Willows.  Whilst waiting for a Cuckoo to show up, we put up 2 low nets at the edge of scrub.  This proved worthwhile with a nice Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler, although we didn't catch any of the smart male Whitethroats singing above the nets.   

                     Grasshopper Warbler               © JC

There were also plenty of other birds about with a flock of 12 Crossbill, 1 Kestrel, 1 Buzzard, 2 Stonechat, 4 Jay, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Grey Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and a Dipper.  The Dipper seemed strange at the time, flying across forestry scrub but we later found a nest with 4 chicks (which we ringed) under a culvert on a small stream. 


                       Dipper pullus                 © JC

Two male Cuckoos appeared and spent a while flying around the nets and calling back to the tape but unfortunately, as with previous attempts, we didn't manage to get any birds in the nets.  The nets were a little exposed to the wind but we may have another attempt soon. 


   Ringing Totals 27/05/2015

                                        New        Pullus
Dipper                                                4
Grasshopper Warbler       1
Robin                                1
Sedge Warbler                  1
Song Thrush                     1
Willow Warbler                 2
Wren                                1                                                        

Total                                7               4              
Earlier in the breeding season Ken had been busy studying the growth rates of Dipper chicks between lowland and upland areas.  This involved locating nests (also with 17 nest boxes) and visiting daily to time the laying of the eggs and hatching.  Once the study nests had been selected the chicks were weighed everyday until fledging.  We will share the results in due course. 
The photos above are the copyright of Ken Perry

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Portstewart Strand 23/05/2015

I was optimistic for the session ahead with near perfect conditions.  The winds were 2-3 mph south-westerlies, full cloud cover and a mild start of 10°C at 05.15.  The conditions remained decent through the morning, although the clouds broke and the wind notched up 4/5 mph.  I departed the site before 11am with the temperature up to the middle teens.  

The scrub has now leafed up nicely and the net rides are looking much better, although some of Sea Buckthorn may need a few months to regenerate some new growth after cutting.  The local breeding birds are now remaining very quiet and there wasn't much of interest.  The best bird of the day was a female Cuckoo that zipped by mid morning, pursued by an army of Meadow Pipits.  The local Otter was fishing close to the shore for much of the morning and later joined by a Grey Seal.  The first Small Heath butterfly of the year, was on the wing, along with multiple Green-veined White and Speckled Wood.

Meadow Pipit

The catching was again slow and you would be excused for thinking that it was late autumn/winter, with a complete lack of warblers.  My optimism soon dissolved but the prospect of something nice always keeps you going.  The best catch was the first Skylark of the year, caught in the 3 shelved gorse net.  Another 2 new Blackbirds takes the total to 38 in 7 months.  The Meadow Pipits in the close vicinity of the gorse scrub seemed very active, with 5 birds ending up in nets.    


Skylark brood patch

Ringing Totals 23/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackbird                          2                 1         
Bullfinch                           1                 2   
Chaffinch                                             1
Dunnock                           2                 2              
Lesser Redpoll                 1        
Meadow Pipit                   3                 2
Skylark                             1
Song Thrush                     1
Wren                                                    1                                    

Total                                11                9                

I had noted a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding along the river by the house so I thought I'd take a look for the nest on the near by stream.  They tend to nest on the same large rock face every year, although I was unable to locate the nest this time, but, going by the adults, I was close.  I had erected a net just downstream and managed to catch the female.  The Dipper nest is now empty and presumably they have fledged but I didn't see any of the family group about.

Grey Wagtail
I also visited the 30 (now 29, one missing) nest boxes in Castleroe Wood, late Saturday afternoon. The occupancy was very disappointing with only 7 boxes (plus one failed nest of 4 GT chicks) being used, compared to 21/22 last year.  Those that were occupied were dominated by Great Tits, with 6 nests and Blue Tits taking up residence in the other.  As well as low numbers, the birds are also late, with only two broods of ringable size and three nests still with eggs.  I ringed the two clutches of Great Tits of suitable size, one of 7 and the other of 3.

Monday 18 May 2015

Copeland Bird Observatory 15th - 17th May

Steve and I headed out on a ringing trip to Copeland Bird Observatory for the weekend (15-17/05/2015) in the hopes of catching a few spring migrants.  The Observatory is located on Lighthouse Island which is part of the Copeland Islands, off the County Down coast in the Irish Sea.
A group of 5 of us arrived on the Island on Friday evening and Steve and I set about setting and furling nets and opening three of the Heligoland traps and the Crow trap.

Saturday morning @ CBO

The weather over the weekend wasn't ideal with constant west winds blowing at around 20mph but we did manage to avoid much of the rain and had some nice sunny weather.  The conditions weren't exactly fantastic for catching birds but the east side of the island remained fairly sheltered.  The winds on Sunday morning switched to South-west for a few hours, which are thought to be the best direction for bringing migrants to the island in spring and they did bring us a handful of nice birds.

                         Spotted Flycatcher           © RD

Breeding is in full swing on the island with large numbers of Eider, Black Guillemot, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser-black Backed Gull sitting on eggs.  We also found the nests of Oystercatcher and Blackbird with eggs and seen two Eider chicks.  The Fulmars were sitting on the cliff ledges and a pair of Rock pipits were bobbing about close by.  The pair of Starlings in the workshop were busy feeding chicks and the Swallows have been checking out the usual nests.  We caught and ringed two Swallows on the Friday evening, who had flown into the Ringing Laboratory looking for nesting sites.  Many of the other resident breeders remained inconspicuous, so may be sitting on eggs e.g. female Reed Buntings, Shelduck, Stock Doves.  The Arctic terns have started to arrive back with c180 birds but there are plenty more to come and set about to breeding.  We also had 4 Puffins knocking about, with 2 sitting among the decoys and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the sound between Lighthouse Island and Mew Island.    

                            Blackbirds                   © RD

In terms of passerine migrants (except Swallows) the Island appeared to be devoid of any birds on Friday evening and Saturday morning between 5-9am.  Birds then started to appear with a Spotted Flycatcher, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff feeding in one tree in Bluebell Gully.  The ringing then picked up and we caught a Spotted Flycatcher, which is a first for me and a couple of Chiffchaff and a Whitethroat.  These birds appeared just in time to show a group of 20+ people who had arrived by boat on a guided island tour.  The baited crow trap then produced some birds with 5 Jackdaws and a Magpie inside, although 2 of the Jackdaw and the Magpie managed to slip out when extracting them.  Steve also caught a Pied Wagtail in a Potters trap, so it was a busy couple of hours but it quietened down after midday.  Swallows were the only obvious persistent migrant, with birds flitting through much of the day with 9 ringed and a single House Martin, of which 4/5 passed through. 

              Whitethroat                       © RD

On Sunday the conditions between 6-8am were ideal with full cloud cover and force 3 winds coming from the south west.  The first two net rounds caught the majority of the days birds, with the second round producing a Spotted Flycatcher in 'Heli trap', a Chiffchaff from the 'Garden net' and the 'Withy net' was the best of the lot with 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Blackcap and a Reed Bunting.  We picked up a few more birds through the rest of the morning but the wind had picked up and switched back to a westerly and many of the migrants seemed to have moved on.

                   Spotted Flycatchers           © RD

All in all it was a really good weekend particularly because I caught up with my target species for the year - Spotted Flycatcher and caught another new species in the form of an Eider duck.  Steve also did well with 4 new species ringed - Spotted Flycatcher, Jackdaw, Whitethroat and House Martin, taking him past 40 species in preparation for his C permit application.
Another few trips will be arranged for autumn migration and perhaps a trip in mid summer to work on the Manx Shearwaters and other breeding birds.

You can check out more information about Copeland Bird Observatory on the link to the right of this page and follow the updates from the island on Facebook - 

                      Eider             © RD

Ringing Totals 15-17/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackbird                                            4
Blackcap                           3
Chiffchaff                          4
Eider                                 1
House Martin                    1
Jackdaw                            1
Pied Wagtail                                       2                         
Reed Bunting                   1                3
Spotted Flycatcher         4
Swallow                            14 
Whitethroat                       1                            
Wren                                 3                3             

Total                                35               11  

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Portstewart Strand 13/05/2015

The conditions this morning were near perfect (calm/dry/dull), although the light winds were of the northerly kind.  I was on site from 05.30 and set East ride, the gorse nets and the first 18 metre net of West ride (the best net), departing the site at 11.00. 


The site seemed quiet early on with the only noticeable difference being more singing Blackcaps.  As the morning went on things picked up a little with a couple of Swifts flying over, 7 Whimbrel on the estuary and a short appearance of a male Cuckoo late morning.  The first couple of Sedge Warblers started singing around 10am and there are at least four territories, although they are in the open scrub away from the nets rides.  One of the local Otters is out everyday at the moment and spends most of the morning fishing in the open, giving some great views. 

Song Thrush

The catch started well with 18 of the birds processed before 8am, 9 of those coming in the first round.  It slowed down after that finishing with 27 birds processed, of which, 16 were new.  The site is pretty prolific for Bullfinches with the new bird today taking the total to 28 since the 16th of September.  I also caught another smart male Reed Bunting today, which shows an even more complete black hood, compared to last weeks. 

Reed Bunting

Ringing Totals 13/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackbird                          2                 3
Blackcap                           2
Bullfinch                           1                 1                 
Chaffinch                          1
Dunnock                           1                 1
Goldfinch                          2                                      
Linnet                                                   1
Meadow Pipit                   1
Reed Bunting                   1                
Song Thrush                     1                                                                              
Willow Warbler                 3                  2                  
Wren                                1                  3             

Total                              16                 11                

In terms of the patch year list I have added three new species over recent days.  I picked up my first Swift on the 11th, a Merlin on the 12th and then todays Cuckoo.  The later two are both new species to the patch for me. 

Steve and I are heading back over to Copeland Bird Observatory this weekend and again full of optimism - a Spotted Flycatcher would be nice!  The forecast is once again looking windy and wet at times but the Island often gets better weather than the mainland, so fingers crossed.  It will be my first trip as ringing duty officer, so a new species would be a nice way to mark the occasion. 

Tuesday 12 May 2015

French and Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits

I have received information back on a couple of colour ringed Black-tailed Godwits I had spotted in the Bann Estuary over the spring.  The birds were ringed in France and Iceland and I am still awaiting information on the third bird, although it is presumed to be Icelandic also.

The first bird was ringed in Siglufjordur, in Northern Iceland on the 13th of July in 2011.  Since then it was seen in the Oare Marshes in Kent on the 14th of November 2011, Lismore in Waterford 12 days later and at the Youghal estuary, Cork the following month.  It had not been seen since until I sighted the bird on the 13th of April this year at the Bann Estuary. 

Line showing movement from ringing location to the Bann Estuary - 860 miles

The second bird has yet to be sighted near it's breeding grounds but instead around wintering spots and on migration.  It was ringed on the west coast of France at Moëze, Charente Maritime close to La Rochelle on the 19th of August 2009 as a 2cy male.  Since then it is has been sighted at 6 different locations in a similar region of France, often using the same sites for the following 4 winters, although it was not sighted in the 2014/15 winter. In Dec 2013 to February 2014, the bird spent its time at Isla Mayor, Seville, beside the Doñana National Park and was sighted in France before and after in the same winter.  I picked the bird up at the Bann Estuary on the 30th of April this year on its way north. 

Line showing movement from ringing location to the Bann Estuary - 686 miles

Hopefully with greater effort in my patch birding I should be able to pick up a few more colour ringed birds but 4 birds is a good start.  I have seen a metal ringed Curlew and Oystercatcher also this spring but not nearly close to enough to read any digits.

Sunday 10 May 2015

UUC River Site 07/05/2015 & Cromore Road 09/05/2015

John had a couple of short sessions at two of the University of Ulster Coleraine sites this week.
The first session at the River Site on Thursday was a short one, lasting around 2 hours, with the conditions being calm and sunny.  Fred, Gwen and Richard popped in for a while.  The site is still quite bare, with the Ash trees yet to leaf up but the first couple of Sedge Warblers were singing amongst the reeds and the Blackcaps have taken up territory.
The ringing was slow, with only 6 new birds but things should pick up a little as the vegetation flourishes. 

 Ageing a Female Blackcap

River Site - Ringing Totals 07/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackcap                            2
Long-tailed Tit                                      1                 
Robin                                                    1
Song Thrush                       3                                                     
Willow Warbler                  1                            

Total                                  6                2

The second session was on Saturday morning at Cromore Road and again was sunny, with a slight breeze.  I don't like to say negatives against good weather but it was too sunny.  It was John and Richard this morning, with Ken making an appearance.  The nets were set at 7am and closed at 10am.  There were certainly a few birds about with at least 3 Sedge Warbler singing on territory, 1 reeling Grasshopper Warbler, 3 singing male Blackcap and a supporting cast of Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler.  The birds didn't appear to be moving around much and stuck to their singing perches, which resulted in a small catch of 4 new birds.  A flock of around 25 Starling, moving back and forth managed to avoid the nets but that was probably a good thing!

The main net ride

The brown visible on the wing of a 2cy male Blackbird

Cromore Road - Ringing Totals 09/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackbird                           2
Blackcap                            1
Robin                                                  1                                                      
Willow Warbler                 1               
Total                                  4                1

Friday 8 May 2015

Portstewart Strand 06/05/2015

It was an early start this morning, to make the most of a short weather window, before the winds increased and the rain arrived.  I arrived on site at 05.15 to calm, overcast conditions, with the temperature at 7°C and set 'East Ride' and the Gorse nets.  The conditions changed at around 10am, with the winds rising to 25mph northerlies, so I packed up and was off site by 10.30.

Reed Bunting  

It seemed very quiet, which was a combination of a very high tide -meaning the estuary was empty and the local birds have got down to the business of breeding and nest building.  The only things of note were c100 Swallows + c20 Sand Martin hawking low over the water and possibly a 4th Grasshopper Warbler territory.  The smart male Reed Bunting above has been knocking about for weeks but has always managed to avoid the nets, until today.
The ringing was very slow with only 7 new birds and 9 retraps but new warblers are always a bonus.  The pair of Blackcaps caught look ready to breed, with the female showing a good brood patch.


 Female Blackcap brood patch

Ringing Totals 06/05/2015
                                        New         Retrap
Blackcap                            2
Bullfinch                                               1
Goldcrest                                              1                 
Reed Bunting                     1                2
Stonechat                                             1                                                      
Willow Warbler                  3                2
Wren                                  1                2             

Total                                  7                9

Saturday 2 May 2015

Portstewart Strand 30/04/2015

Looking at the forecast prior to my visit, I was really questioning why I was getting out of bed before 6am.  The winds were set to be over 20mph from the north and very sunny.  The scrub net rides tend to be fairly sheltered in all directions, except from the exposed south, so I gave it a go.  I was by myself this morning, so I just set up 'West Ride' and a single sheltered gorse net at 06.15 and I was away by midday. 

Inevitably the weather wasn't in my favour, with a few billowing, bright nets, resulting in a smaller catch.  There did appear to be a few new birds about, with the first couple of Sedge Warbler, 3 reeling Grasshopper Warbler, c20 Sand Martin, 3 White Wagtail, 3 Wheatear (a pair + 1 Greenland), 18 Whimbrel and a new arrival of c250 Black-tailed Godwit (only 8 the day before), with a new colour ringed bird. 
There was an equal number of new birds and retraps today, with 8 of each.  Nothing really stands out but another 2 new Blackbirds is pleasing, taking us to 16 for the site this spring. 

Ringing Totals 30/04/2015

                                        New         Retrap
Blackbird                           2                1
Blue Tit                                                1
Bullfinch                                              2                
Chaffinch                           1
Lesser Redpoll                                     1
Linnet                                 1                 
Meadow Pipit                                       1
Reed Bunting                     1
Robin                                  1                1                                                      
Willow Warbler                  2                
Wren                                                     1             

Total                                 8                8
                  Blackcap from CBO            © RD
The weather was less than favourable for our trip to Copeland Bird Observatory (CBO), with strong northerlies throughout the weekend.  We did manage to get a few migrants with Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler ringed.  Steve also ringed a couple of new species, including Sparrowhawk and Hooded Crow.  Despite the weather it was still a good trip and I'm looking forward to my next weekend visit in mid May.
             Sunrise on CBO looking over Mew Island        © RD
This year I have adopted the Bann Estuary as my patch and I am doing some proper birding, rather than my usual wanderings all over the country.  My species list for the site, pre 2015, stood at a meagre 99 species with quite a few very 'easy' species missing - I still need Coal Tit, Collard Dove and Moorhen to name a few.  Trawling through historical records I have managed to notch up 223 species recorded in the estuary with a number of notable rarities and there are probably a few common species I have missed out, as no one thought them worthy of recording.   
This year to date I have seen 90 species, including a new species for me yesterday, in the form of an immature Marsh Harrier.  New species for the site this year include, Gadwall, Iceland Gull, Jack Snipe, Knot and Snow Bunting, taking my site total up to 111.  The only species I have dipped so far this year are Grey Plover and Ruff and possibly a White-tailed Sea Eagle spotted 1 mile to the west coming from the direction of the estuary. 
I'm not sure on a fair target for the year but 120 species at the moment doesn't seem far off with a number of sea birds, terns and waders still to pick up.    
The Patch - The Bann Estuary