Thursday 30 July 2015

Portstewart Strand 30/07/2015 - Kingfishers - Goldfinch Control Details

This morning I arrived on site at 06.45 in fair conditions.  It started overcast, with winds around 5mph from the NW and it was 11°C.  The cloud broke and it heated up through the morning, with temperatures hitting 18°C on departure at 12.00, in full sunshine.  I did get caught out with one short shower but it didn't last long.  I operated the Gorse nets and East Ride. 

A juvenile Lesser Redpoll minus the red

In terms of singing birds it seemed to be quiet but there were more fledglings chirping in the scrub.  The usual flocks of Lesser Redpoll, Linnet and Starlings were flying about to and fro, with a few Goldfinches also.  The Sedge Warblers seem to have finished breeding and are now starting to move around the site.  Again the flies were a real problem with hundreds of house flies following me about.  I'm not sure how I stick it out as they really drive me mad. 
Todays entertainment came in the form of a Red Fox trying to catch roosting gulls and waders on the far side of the estuary.  It came very close to 3 Lapwing (the first since Spring) but for the next hour or two, it had little success.  It was the standard butterfly selection on offer plus some Cinnabar moths added to the mix.  The Orchids are mostly finished now, but the Sea Aster is in full flower along the estuary shore and the blackberries are nearly here.  

The Belgian Sedge Warbler

The catch was steady through the morning with the gorse nets taking the majority of the birds, which has become the norm.  The best bird of the morning goes to the control Sedge Warbler bearing a Belgian ring.  This is my first foreign control and the second non-local control for the ringing site.  I had a little trouble reading the writing on the ring but I was confident I could read Brussels/Bruxelles.  Hopefully the number of Warblers will increase over the next month as the locals start to move about and the passage migrants stop over.  

Ringing Totals 30/07/2015
                                        New        Retrap        Control         
Blackbird                                            1
Blackcap                            2 
Bullfinch                             1              1
Dunnock                            3              3              
Lesser Redpoll                   5     
Linnet                                 5
Meadow Pipit                     2
Reed Bunting                     1
Sedge Warbler                   2                                 1                
Willow Warbler                  2                                                    
Wren                                  2

Total                                25                5               1 
Yesterday (29/07/2015) I met up with Ken and Nick who were doing a bit of river ringing on the River Rhee near Macosquin.  After all the heavy rain, the rivers and streams were high and quite discoloured.    The target species were Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Kingfishers and it was a Dipper that appeared first but it bounced from the net.  The next bird stuck and it was a female Kingfisher, which was a first for Nick.
We then moved up river to another location and again caught one Kingfisher; this time a brilliantly blue male.  It's not often that Kingfisher is the only species caught, with Dipper being much more common. 
Kingfisher (female)
I often find that the river species move about in high water to find food.  In general the Dippers were absent and I presume they move upstream to find shallower water in which to feed.  We didn't see any Grey Wagtails, which seem to find their way to ponds, puddles and other standing water.  The Kingfishers on the other hand seem to move off the main over-deep rivers and come into the smaller rivers and streams, which helped us today. 
Kingfisher (male)
I have also received information from the BTO about a Goldfinch that I controlled in the garden back on the 3rd of March 2015.  The bird had been ringed at the Calf of Man Bird Observatory, on the Isle of Man, on the 16th of April 2014.  The distance moved is 164 km, 321 days apart.  Of the three Goldfinches controlled in my garden, this is the second from the Calf of Man BO.
The conditions look favourable tonight for a Storm Petrel session and we should be in peak season for birds passing the shore at Rinnagree Point.
  The guys in Donegal did persevere into Sunday and attempted to ring at Malin Beg and were rewarding with another Leach's Petrel, although only another 18 Storm Petrels.   

Sunday 26 July 2015

Donegal Petrels 24/07/2015 & New Storm Petrel Recoveries

On Friday (24th July) I headed over to Malin Beg/Glencolumbkille, on the western tip of Donegal to ring some Petrels.  The trip was organised by members of the Belfast & Down Ringing Group and The Irish Midlands Ringing Group, who were staying for three nights.  The area is really beautiful with a rugged coastline, old forts, deep glens, hidden coves and non-intensive farming.  The bird species are much reduced in this exposed and relatively treeless landscape, but what it lacks, it makes up for in style with breeding Chough, Twite (presumably) and waders.  On the Island of Rathlin O'Birne, just off the coast of Malin beg, there is a breeding population of Storm Petrels and most likely breeding Leach's Petrels too. 

Rathlin O'Birne Island at sundown

The weather throughout Friday and Saturday was fantastic with lots of sunshine; which can be hard to come by on the west coast of Ireland.  The guys had set up the nets earlier in the day, so we opened up shortly after 11pm.  The skies were clear, so it took a while to darken and the birds to arrive.  As well as the 10 ringers present, a few locals and some Austrian tourists had stopped by to check out the weird goings on and see these fabled birds.  After 11.30 the first few birds started to arrive, turning to a constant flow after midnight.  We continued ringing until around 3.30am, when the birds started to slow off, as the sky lightened.  Shooting stars were a feature throughout the night in some of the darkest skies I've seen.     

The view from the ringing site

   The northerly wind was a little stronger than we would have liked and meant the net pockets were billowing towards the direction the birds were coming, so lots of birds bounced out.  The catch was still very good with c265 new Storm Petrels, one controlled Storm Petrel, one Leach's Petrel and a Rock Pipit caught early on.  There was also a couple more Leach's Petrels flying around and some that escaped the nets. 
The forecast for Saturday was pretty poor, with only the first hour or so being suitable.  I received a text this morning to say that this was the case and they only managed a catch of 28 birds before the rain came and the winds got stronger.  The forecast tonight looks even worse.

The Napoleonic Watch/Signal Tower above the ringing site 

Rinnagree Storm Petrel Recoveries

As I mentioned in a previous post, we managed to catch two controls (birds ringed elsewhere) on the 15th of July.  The improved BTO response system means that we have received the information already!  The new system once in place should mean instantaneous information and as I understand it, search capabilities for ringers. 

The first bird was originally ringed on the Isle of May, Fife, Scotland on the 31st of July 2014.  This is our second exchange with the observatory and it is a minimum distance of 884 km as the Storm Petrel flies, 349 days apart. 

The second bird was originally ringed at Marske-by-the-Sea, Redcar & Cleveland in North-east England.  This is the first Storm Petrel we have caught from England and as the Storm Petrel flies, is the furthest away location, at a minimum of 1077 km. The bird was ringed on the 6th of August 2014, so 343 days apart.   

The star denotes our ringing location

Check out Belfast & Down Ringing Group on Facebook:

and The Irish Midlands Ringing Group on their blog and Facebook:

Friday 24 July 2015

23/07/2015 Garden Ringing & Sand Martin - Visit Three

This mornings session was in Kens garden, beside the University and he had invited one of his restricted C permit holders down from Belfast, to do some training.  The weather was cloudy, dry and a little breezy but the garden is fairly sheltered.  Ken feeds throughout the year, but much reduced in summer, from c 12 larger mixed feeders in winter to 2 seed feeders.  There are plenty of finches visiting the garden and they empty the feeders each day.

Rook - I wasn't on the ball with pictures today, so here is one from February last year

The catch through the morning was steady and kept the three of us busy, plus we managed to resolve yet another problem on IPMR!!  The best birds of the day were the 2 Rooks but they also carried two flat flies each, which decided to find a new host.  Three were caught and dispatched, the fourth remains unaccounted for...  Fifteen Chaffinch was also good and it was interesting to see juvenile Chaffinches, as I tend not to catch the species until the autumn. 

Species               Total (new+ retraps)
Chaffinch             15
Goldfinch              5
Dunnock                3
Robin                     3
Great Tit               3
Blue Tit                 4
Coal Tit                 3
Rook                      2
Total                     38
Sand Martin - Visit Three
We finished off around midday and headed up to Macfin for the third and final visit to the Sand Martin colony of the year.  I arrived first and set up the usual 12 + 6 metre nets and let the birds gather.  The number of birds has greatly reduced from the c300 birds in mid June to perhaps 60/70 this afternoon.  This is of course expected, as the birds move on, once their young have flown the nest (burrow).  The conditions weren't fantastic, with sunshine and a breeze, making the nets very obvious from 60 metres away.  In the hour that we stayed, we caught a total of 21 birds, of which 11 were retraps (9 from this year and 2 from last year).    
For the season we managed to catch  128 new birds and only 8 retraps from last year.  I am very disappointed with the number of birds re-caught from the 144 ringed last year.  I had perhaps hoped to start a RAS (Retrapping adults for survival) but you require a minimum of 30 birds to be re-caught from previous years.  Maybe next year, with potentially 272 birds bearing rings, we might have more success.
Again apologies for the lack of pictures but here are a few shots from last weekend, taken at the Umbra Nature Reserve managed by Ulster Wildlife.


Saturday 18 July 2015

Storm Petrel Session 3 - Rinnagree 15/07/2015

Tonight it was John, Steve and myself in decent conditions - 3 oktas cloud cover, and 4-5 mph easterly.  It remained light to the north until after midnight and by 02.30 it started to brighten in the north-east.     

The view North over the Atlantic Ocean after 11PM
We opened the net at 11.50 with the first birds arriving at 00.35 and the final bird at 02.30, when we closed up.  We managed to get 20 new birds and 2 control birds; again from ring sequences that we do not recognise.  The data was submitted today, so hopefully with the quicker BTO data response system, we will find out soon.

The weather for the next 3/4 days looks poor, so we wont get out again until next week.  For other ringing there may be a short weather window on Sunday morning. 

Friday 17 July 2015

Portstewart Strand 15/07/2015

It was a 06.30 start this morning in fine conditions but a cool start for mid July, at 9°C.  The cloud broke up through the morning leaving fine sunny spells and the temperatures reached 15°C by my departure at 11.30.  The wind picked up to around 8-10mph blowing from the East.  I operated west ride and the gorse nets.  Literally as I drove out the gates the heavens opened and it continued for much of the day.


Many of the species are starting to gather into larger flocks with hundreds of Starlings, up to c40 Linnet and smaller groups of Lesser Redpolls, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. 
The flies are also gathering and drove me to the point of madness.  At first it was the midges but the insect repellent kept them at bay.  The House-fly type flies didn't leave me alone all day and at times I had over one hundred over my head and landing all over me; especially when extracting birds from the nets.  Thankfully my normal summer nemesis - the Horse Fly (Cleg) was absent but for one individual.  To top things off, all four Dunnocks I caught each had a flat fly that decided to jump host, I managed to squish two... 

Sedge Warbler

The catch was one of the best of the summer with plenty of juvenile birds and only two retraps.  The total was 23 birds of 11 species.  The best bird was a male Sedge Warbler, which is a first for the site.  It has been singing right above the 3 shelf gorse net for the last few sessions, so it was nice to finally catch it.  There were a few juvenile Swallows knocking about and they took a liking to sitting on the gorse net poles and guys. 

  Ringing Totals 15/07/2015
                                        New         Retrap         
Blackbird                           1                1
Blackcap                            1 
Dunnock                            4              
Lesser Redpoll                   1     
Linnet                                 5
Reed Bunting                     1
Robin                                 1
Sedge Warbler                   1
Song Thrush                                        1                
Willow Warbler                   5                                                    
Wren                                  1

Total                                21                 2 

The wildflowers are still looking fine and in combination with the sunny spells, they are proving irresistible to the insects.  The butterflies put on a good show with c50 Common Blue, c20 Ringlet, 7 Meadow Brown, 4 Dark Green Fritillary, 2 Speckled Wood and 1 Small Tortoiseshell.  The swathes of Wild Thyme attracted hundreds of Bumblebees of different species.  I finally got around to checking out the Bee Orchid patch, although I was a little late in the season.  They seemed to have had a poor year and I only noticed two finished flower stocks and one just passed its best.  The Thyme Broomrape has come into flower and looks great in combination with the hundreds of Pyramidal Orchids. 

  Bee Orchid
Thyme Broomrape

Common Spotted Orchids

Common Blue Butterfly

Thursday 16 July 2015

Common Terns - Inch Island 14/07/2015

Ken made a second ringing visit to Inch Island Wild Fowl Reserve on the 26th of June to ring the hatchlings from the c300 remaining Sandwich Tern eggs noted on the previous visit.  The result was very poor with few birds present and no clear reason to why.  They did however discover that the Common Terns had nested again after the flood and counted 130 eggs.

On the 14th, Ken and I headed up to Inch and met up with Andrew and Martin from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to ring the chicks.  After launching the boat we discovered that the throttle on the outboard engine was stuck on full.  With a bit of manoeuvring with the oars, we were able to start the engine in the open water and point it towards the islet!

Common Tern chick
The result was again disappointing, with only 31 Common Tern chicks present from the 130 eggs.  We found around a dozen cold eggs, so the rest of the eggs/chicks have probably been predated.  The Common Terns nest at the edge of the islet close to the waters edge, so they are probably a little more vulnerable to large gulls or perhaps even a mammalian predator, although there were no obvious signs.

Juvenile Black-headed Gull

  There were still lots of Black-headed Gulls present at various stages, from fresh hatchlings to birds in flight.  We managed to catch eight well developed birds, with three flying away on release.  Tufted Ducks breed on the islet in sizeable numbers.  Without looking for them, I came across around 15 nests with a mixture of chicks and eggs, and there are probably at least double that number.  There were also quite a few chicks that had left their nests already, which were surprisingly quick, darting through the grasses.  

Tufted Duck chick
This was the final visit to the breeding colony this year but hopefully the birds start cropping up at interesting locations and someone can read their rings.  I will eventually give an update on the findings and results from Ken's study from the past 25/30 years which includes a Pacific Ocean recovery!

Wednesday 15 July 2015

12/07/2015 University Cromore Road & Storm Petrel Session 2

This morning we thought we would give the Cromore Road site on the University campus another go after neglecting it for a few months.  John, Steve and I met up at 8am in fine conditions and set about giving the net rides a quick clear.  We opted for the usual net run along the hedgerow and added three extra 18m nets, positioned in prime warbler territory.

The catch wasn't big in terms of numbers but it had a bit of quality.  The total was 15 new birds of 9 species and six of those born this year.  The best birds were a pair of adult Sedge Warblers, with juvenile Chiffchaffs (below) in the supporting cast. 


Ringing Totals 12/07/2015
                                        New         Retrap                         
Blackcap                            2                 
Bullfinch                            1   
Chiffchaff                          2
Dunnock                            2
Goldfinch                          1
Great Tit                            2                                       
Robin                                1
Sedge Warbler                  2
Willow Warbler                 2                                                   

Total                                15                
Storm Petrel Session 2 -  Rinnagree
The forecast looked perfect for an attempt at catching Storm Petrels.  The wind was 3-5mph from the south, which helps carry the call out to sea, the sea was quiet, the cloud was near full cover and it was mild (for our benefit). 
We had the net open for around midnight and the first two birds hit the net at 01.20.  It ended up being pretty slow with only 7 birds caught, with one bird being a control.  The rain arrived just before 2am, so we packed up and made a hasty exit. 
  The control isn't from a sequence we recognise from previous exchanges with other ringers in the UK & Ireland, so hopefully it will be a new location. 

Sand Martins - Visit Two

Last week John, Steve and myself headed over to Macfin for the second visit of the season to the large Sand Martin colony.  We went for an afternoon session and it was a little breezy but it remained dry and mostly cloudy.  On arrival there were a large number of birds very agitated by a Magpie around the nest holes, which was similar to last time but in that case it was a cat! 
The number of birds seemed to be slightly down on the last visit but the numbers were still high. 

                      Juvenile Sand Martin                © JC

In total we caught 55 birds, of which 15 were retraps and 20 of those new birds were juveniles.  Four of the retraps were from last year, taking us up to only 7 birds from last year, which still seems very low to me. 

There was an extra injection of excitement when a Sparrowhawk went tearing into the sand pit and went into the main 12 metre net.  It stuck in the top shelf for all of two seconds before dropping to the bottom shelf.  I went at full speed to extract the bird but it flipped out and away before I could get half way.  Maybe next time!   

The final visit of the season will probably take place on the last weekend of July. 

Friday 10 July 2015

July Update

Now that most of our trips and holidays are out of the way and the weather is set fair for the next few weeks we should hopefully get out more regularly.

Last weekend Ken had a training session in his garden by the University for one of his T permit holders - Alison.  The weather was a mixed bag but they still managed a good catch of 32 birds of 11 species. 

There were a couple of nice catches for the garden including 2 House Sparrow, which are a rare commodity in the nets and a Woodpigeon.

Ringing Totals 04/07/2015
Blackbird                            3             
Blue Tit                              1
Chaffinch                           5
Coal Tit                              2       
Dunnock                            3                        
Goldfinch                           9
Great Tit                             3 
Greenfinch                         2
House Sparrow                  2
Robin                                 1
Woodpigeon                      1                                  
Total                                 32                 

On Wednesday night John, Ken and Steve had the first attempt of catching Storm Petrels this year.  Normally in the second week of July the catches range from 14-39 birds.  The weather forecast was wayward, as the suggested calmer conditions didn't materialise and left a wind blown net.  Only two birds were caught and they only hit the net prior to packing up at 2am. 

This morning I headed down to Portstewart Strand to do a bit of work on the net rides.  It was two days shy of a month since my last visit, so I was expecting there to have been a lot of growth and you can see from the picture below, my presumption proved true.  Armed with a 'whacking stick' and a pair of clippers, I was able to flatten the hogweed, nettles and the brambles in an hour, hopefully keeping the rides clear for the autumn.

The conditions were calm first thing (5-7mph wind, overcast,17°C), so I managed to open a couple of nets for about an hour and a half.  There seemed to be a few birds about but I only managed a catch of 5 new birds and the customary retrap Bullfinch.  By 9.30am the wind had picked up greatly (20mph+) so I quickly packed up and headed for home.   

Ringing Totals 10/07/2015
                                        New         Retrap        Juveniles in [ ]         
Blackbird                           1
Blackcap                            1                 
Bullfinch                                              1   
Dunnock                           [1]                                         
Robin                                [1]
Willow Warbler                 [1]                                                     

Total                                  5                1 

The dunes are looking spectacular and full of colour.  The area around the gorse nets is particularly good for Northern Marsh Orchids with plenty of Pyramidal and Common Spotted (from white to deep pink) mixed in. I also spotted my first Dark-green Fritillary butterfly for the year plus a number of Common Blue and Small Tortoiseshell.