Sunday 25 October 2015

Back To The Fut... reality

The weather finally broke at the start of the week and we are back to the typical Irish weather of wind and rain.  I'm not sure I recall such a prolonged, settled spell here in Northern Ireland for many years.   The forecast this morning was for dry weather but with winds rising to 18mph.  We decided to give it a go, although we weren't overly hopeful.  In terms of nets, we stuck to the more sheltered spots in the scrub, so were reduced on our usual coverage.


At first light there appeared to be plenty of thrushes in the scrub, including 100+ Redwing.  Linnet numbers have also risen with larger flocks roving about.  Other sightings included 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk, 27 Whooper Swan, 6 Light-bellied Brent Geese and c45 Greenfinch feeding on rose hips, away from the ringing site.  Things died off after 8am as the winds picked up and this was also the case in the ringing.
The nets caught a lot today, but not as hoped (but expected), with a ratio of ten leaves for every one bird!  We totalled nine new birds with four Redwing, one Blackcap, one Blackbird, one Goldfinch, one Great Tit and one Wren.  We didn't catch any birds after 08.30, so packed up early and headed for home. 

I've finally managed to get some time to update the ringing records and I have attached a copy of the ringing totals for Portstewart Strand below.  Thus far it has been a fairly pleasing season, with a good spread of species.  We will probably wrap it up at the site at the end of November, so hopefully we can add a few more new species in that time.  We wouldn't say no to another rarity!

  Species   New Retrap Control Total
1 Blackbird 38 12 50
2 Blackcap 32 2 34
3 Blue Tit 8 4 12
4 Bullfinch 31 25 56
5 Chaffinch  13 3 16
6 Chiffchaff 3 3
7 Dunnock    40 45 85
8 Coal Tit 5 3 8
9 Goldcrest  9 8 17
10 Goldfinch 51 1 52
11 Grasshopper Warbler 1 1
12 Great Tit 7 3 10
13 Lesser Redpoll 59 1 60
14 Linnet 28 2 30
15 Meadow Pipit 127 4 131
16 Redwing 10 10
17 Reed Bunting 15 2 17
18 Robin 35 13 48
19 Sand Martin 3 3
20 Sedge Warbler 3 2 1 6
21 Skylark 4 4
22 Song Thrush 24 4 28
23 Sparrowhawk 2 2
24 Starling 1 1
25 Stonechat 9 3 12
26 Willow Warbler 59 12 71
27 Woodpigeon 1 1
28 Wren 29 30 59
29 Yellow-browed Warbler 1 1
  Total 648 179 1 828

We have received word back from the BTO on the movements of a Storm Petrel and Black-headed Gull.  The Storm Petrel was a bird ringed by us on the 27th of August 2014 and it was re-caught by another ringed 332 days later.  The bird was trapped on Papa Westray, Orkney at a straight line distance of  518 km.  I have updated the totals and maps in the tabs above.

Storm Petrel movement

For details on the Black-headed Gull check out the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Survey blog -
Black-headed Gull movement

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Mid October Update

Over the past week or so we have managed to get a few visits to Portstewart Stand and the university river site, boosted by John having some time off.  Ken has also kicked off the winter ringing in his garden.  The weather has been fantastic yet again and it is hard to believe that it has lasted so long!


As we progress through the autumn, you notice the subtle changes in migration, day to day.  Earlier in the week, Skylarks were on the move in big numbers but by the weekend, the main wave had passed and the Thrushes took over.  On Saturday alone, seven Song Thrush and four Blackbird were caught, plus five Redwing over the weekend, with many more present.  Goldfinch and Chaffinch numbers are also building and Twite have made a first appearance for the autumn/winter.  A new species for the dune system came in the form of two stunning male Yellowhammers.  Duck numbers on the estuary are also on the rise, with plenty of Mallard, Teal and Wigeon


The sessions at Portstewart Strand have been productive and we have caught some nice birds.  The best of these would be three Skylark, five Redwing and three Reed Bunting.  The totals include a short visit from the 1st of the month, which I had missed on the last update.  It included probably the last Chiffchaff of the year and the only Blackcap so far this month, although I expect a few more in the remainder of the season. 

                                                       Skylark                                                (JC)

PSS Ringing Totals

                                        New        Retrap           
Blackbird                         5                 2  
Blackcap                          1                 1
Blue Tit                            2
Bullfinch                          1                 1
Chaffinch                         5
Chiffchaff                        1
Coal Tit                           2                                      
Dunnock                          1                 6              
Goldcrest                         1
Goldfinch                       32
Great Tit                         3                  
Linnet                             5
Meadow Pipit                8                  
Redwing                         5
Reed Bunting                 3 
Robin                              3                   1                                                                               
Skylark                           3
Song Thrush                  8                                                                      
Wren                              1                    2             

Total                              90                 13                
 The river site remains quiet, although there has been noticeable migration overhead and in the nets with Blackbird, Chaffinch and Robins moving.  The best bird caught was a Treecreeper, accompanied by a couple of Goldcrest.  We wouldn't ring in many woodland sites, so only handle one or two Treeceepers a year.  It may potentially have been a bird in search of pastures new, as the habitat contains only a few trees with a trunk girth greater than 7/8 inches. 
                                                       Treecreeper                                              (JC)
University River Site Ringing Totals
                                       New        Retrap           
Blackbird                          2                 
Blue Tit                             1                1
Bullfinch                           1        
Chaffinch                         8                            
Goldcrest                          2                                 
Great Tit                           4
Robin                                4                                                                              
Treecreeper                      1     

Total                                 23               1                
On Friday morning Ken had a session in his garden for Siobhan to continue her training.  The sunflower hearts are really starting to pull in the birds, including very large numbers of Coal Tits.  Of the 70 birds processed, 29 of those were Coal Tits, which is much higher than the norm.  At this time of year they can become a bit of a pest at the feeders, as they only eat a fraction of the food and continually return and stash food around the garden.  They make good training for extracting small birds from mist nets though!
Ken's Garden Ringing Totals 16/10/2015
Blackbird                          1                 
Blue Tit                             4
Chaffinch                         15
Coal Tit                            29
Dunnock                            1             
Goldfinch                         10
Great Tit                           9              
Greenfinch                        1

Total                                 70                       
All in all in it has been a very productive month thanks to the very settled weather and hopefully we can squeeze in another couple of sessions.  So far we have processed 268 birds of 25 species.  The obvious highlight being the Yellow-browed Warbler and I doubt that will be topped this year.  If the weather allows it, we should be back in action next weekend. 

Monday 12 October 2015

Portstewart Strand 10-11/10/2015 Yellow-browed Warbler

The fine weather persisted for yet another week, so we made the most of our weekend off and managed two visits to Portstewart Strand.  Our endeavours were rewarded on Sunday morning with the discovery of a Yellow-browed Warbler in one of the nets.  This is actually the first the group has seen, let alone ringed.  It is probably the 5th or 6th YBW to have been ringed in Northern Ireland.  It is certainly a fine way to pay back the effort of setting up the site and hacking our way through 150 metres of dense thorny scrub.  I was quietly confident I would run into a YBW this autumn, given the unprecedented mass flood of birds into the UK and Ireland in the past weeks, although, I thought Copeland Bird Observatory last weekend, would have been the place to find it.     

Yellow-browed Warbler                    (© R Donaghey)

I was out by myself on Saturday morning, in what you would consider perfect conditions for using mist nets.  It was flat calm and overcast, plus the added bonus of being mild.  As I was alone and heading out again the following morning, I gave myself a bit of a lie in and restricted myself to the gorse and alder nets plus the first 18 metre net of 'west ride'. 
It started off quiet but as it brightened, a few birds got moving.  Meadow Pipit, Skylark and some wagtails were the obvious migrants passing overhead, with an arrival of Chaffinch and Reed Buntings in and around the scrub.  There were at least 3 new Stonechats knocking about and the first Merlin since early summer.  Once again warblers and hirundines were completely absent and finch numbers were much reduced (Chaffinch the exception).  There was little of note on the river, although c300 Lapwing was nice.  The waters of the estuary were boiling all morning, with Grey Mullet everywhere.  They kept a bull Grey Seal on his toes and he didn't look to have much success. 


The catch was decent, considering the effort and it was pleasing to get another new Stonechat.  This is the ninth ringed this year and I guess it goes to prove the turn over of birds.  Again Meadow Pipits made up the bulk of the catch and many more could have been caught. 

Ringing Totals 10/10/2015
                                        New        Retrap           
Blackbird                          1                 
Blue Tit                             1
Bullfinch                           1        
Coal Tit                             1
Dunnock                                            2              
Goldcrest                           1              1
Great Tit                            1               1
Lesser Redpoll                  3 
Meadow Pipit                    15             1 
Reed Bunting                     1
Robin                                 3                                                                              
Stonechat                          1                1                                                 
Wren                                  1                                

Total                                30               6                

On Sunday morning it was John and myself, arriving on site at 06.30.  The conditions were again very fine, although we got caught out with a heavy shower as we were packing up, around 11.00.  We used all the nets, minus 40 metres in 'east ride'  When we got out of the car, the first thing we heard, was a Redwing calling above our heads in the dark.  We quickly turned on the 'Latvian love song' (the infamous Redwing song recording) and managed to pull one or two birds out of the sky but none ended up in the nets.  A further four birds dropped into the scrub later, when we were no longer using a lure.  It was clear there had been an arrival of thrushes with plenty of Blackbird and Song Thrush around.  Two of the Blackbirds caught had the distinct look of Scandinavians but the biometrics didn't show anything to prove this. 
I got a bit of a surprise while setting up 'west ride' when a Long-eared Owl came drifting along the net and passed right over my head.  It had probably been attracted in by the racket from the Blackbirds.  Geese were on the move too, with four flocks coming in off the sea, two each of Barnacle Goose and Light-bellied Brent Goose, ranging from 25-40 birds.  Two male Sparrowhawk were also new in and both wound up in mist nets.  The highlight was of course the Yellow-browed Warbler which found its way into the three shelf gorse net.  We may have heard this bird earlier in the alders but we didn't manage a proper view of the bird before it disappeared, so it remained unidentified.  It was certainly a small non Willow-chiff warbler. 

                                                                    Sparrowhawk                     (© John Clarke (lower image))

 The catch today was actually lower than the previous day, despite the increased effort and coverage but that doesn't matter when you catch a Yellow-browed Warbler.  The two Sparrowhawks were also a very nice addition to the site list.  We would normally only ring one or two a year if we are lucky.  Another five new Blackbird and three Song Thrush is also pleasing and adding to the healthy totals for the year.  The tit totals are still higher than normal and is most likely down to the feeding station.  The appearance of Coal Tits is probably down to the mass eruption occurring across the UK, as it is a species we haven't recorded in the dune system before. 

                                                                  Sparrowhawk                   (© John Clarke (lower image))

Ringing Totals 11/10/2015
                                           New        Retrap           
Blackbird                             5                  
Blue Tit                                1               3
Bullfinch                              1             
Chaffinch                             1
Coal Tit                                                 2
Dunnock                                               3            
Goldfinch                             2      
Meadow Pipit                       6 
Robin                                    1                                                                             
Song Thrush                        3
Sparrowhawk                      2                                                                 
Wren                                     2              2               
Yellow-browed Warbler      1

Total                                     25            10                   

On another topic, I thought I'd share a couple of pictures of the dead juvenile Fin Whale that washed up on the beach at the start of the week.  When I first seen it, it was believed to be a Minke Whale, before the opinion changed to it being a full grown Sei Whale, which had died of age.  The following day, someone wiser than those before them, confirmed that it was in fact a juvenile Fin Whale.  It was unfortunate circumstances to see the beast but a pleasure all the same.  It would have made a fine feast for some Ivory Gulls. 

Monday 5 October 2015

Copeland Bird Observatory 2nd - 4th October

After our routine pre-CBO 'chippy', John, Ken, Steve and I were ready to jump into the RHIB and set sail for Lighthouse Island.  We met up with Island regulars David, Philip and Ian at the harbour in Donaghadee, who were accompanied by Olli, on his first trip.  As forecast, the winds were very light and the sea was flat calm for a change.
On arrival on the island, we set about readying the nets and traps.  With 6 ringers on hand we set a few extra nets than the norm, covering most of the north and east of the island.  In total we set 10 mist nets, with the 4 in situ Heligoland traps, the crow trap, plus 7 spring & potter traps.     

Lesser Redpoll

When setting up it was evident there were a few birds knocking about and we caught a couple of Blackcap, Goldcrest and Song Thrush before sunset around 7pm.  After dark, a few us headed out in search of a few Manx Shearwaters but with little hope.  It is very late in the season and the majority of the chicks should have fledged and be on route to the southern hemisphere.  Luckily we managed to find 12 new chicks within half an hour and the following night added 5 more. 
  The CBO team along with Oxford University were successful in retrieving 3 geolocators from adult birds over the summer.  These had been attached 3/4 years ago when the birds were chicks in their burrows.  It is not known exactly what young shearwaters do from their first migration south until they return to the breeding colonies 3/4 later.  Hopefully the data can be extracted and it will shed some light/confirm peoples thoughts in what they do!  For updates on the project, follow Copeland Bird Observatory on Facebook -


The next day, we were up before dawn (two of us anyway!) to open the nets and get ready for the mornings ringing.  Again the conditions were ideal and the birds started trickling out of the bushes and into the mist nets.  The birds consisted of Blackbird, Blackcap, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Robin, Song Thrush and Wren.  It wasn't long before the finches got moving with flocks of Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Linnet moving around/over the island plus c30 Skylark.  With the help of tape lures we picked up 73 Lesser Redpoll and 11 Linnet, before closing the nets early afternoon.  A Hooded Crow found it's way into the crow trap for a second time, following its initial foray in April.  The sea remained quite for the most but totals of 1000+ Razorbill, 500+ Gannet, c40 Eiders, c50 Harbour Porpoise, a few Red-throated Diver and other bits and pieces kept Ian content.  The Grey Seal breeding season is in full swing with at least 40 seal pups spotted at the Observatory and on the near side of Mew Island, with probably many more around the rest of Mew and Big Copeland.  The bulls (males) were also getting very frisky, as the females come in to season. 

                                            Grey Seal pup           (© Steve Fyffe)

  Adult Grey Seals

On Sunday morning the conditions were perfect, with next to no wind and a good covering of cloud.  The initial net rounds showed there had been an arrival of Chiffchaff, with 14 ringed in the first few hours.  The catch was similar to Saturday but with an added Wheatear from the 'Heli Trap' at first light, a Woodpigeon from the 'Thicket' net and a Meadow Pipit in a spring trap.  Again the finches got moving with Linnets (including a flock of c50), hundreds of Lesser Redpoll, plenty of Goldfinches and a single Chaffinch.  The Lesser Redpolls surpassed the previous days totals and this corresponded in the ringing totals, with 103 new birds.  The sea was again pretty quite but 3 Great Skua, c100 Curlew and a few extra Black Guillemot was something.  No Hirundines were noted all weekend.



Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend with lots of birds ringed and some good weather.  Unfortunately we couldn't produce one of the Yellow-browed Warblers, that have pouring down the coasts of the UK and Ireland, that we were hoping for. 

CBO    Ringing Totals         02-04/10/2015
                                        New        Retrap           
Blackbird                         1                4                   
Blackcap                          6                1                            
Chiffchaff                       14  
Dunnock                          3                             
Goldcrest                        27               2
Goldfinch                         1                                      
Hooded Crow                                    1
Lesser Redpoll              175  
Linnet                              14
Meadow Pipit                   1
Manx Shearwater           17               2
Robin                               13              5                                                                                
Song Thrush                    4                                                                            
Wheatear                         1      
Woodpigeon                    1
Wren                                4                1                                
Total                               282             16        

A bird laden Pond 60' net

Other bits and pieces from the weekend included Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, up to 7 Buzzard, a possible Harrier spp., Stock Dove, Water Rail, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Snipe Turnstone, Grey Heron, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Magpie, Jackdaw, Raven, Rook, Cormorant, Shag, Teal, Mallard, Starling, Reed Bunting, Pheasant, Small-tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. 
Home time at 'East Landing'