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  and the later on his Tory Island Bird Blog -
Check out 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

Sunday 15 November 2015

Portstewart Strand & Storm Petrel Recoveries

The weather has been dismal for much of the week, with 50mph+ winds at times, with heavy persistent rain.  In fact, as a write this, the window is getting battered and has done for much of the day.  I did manage to find two short weather windows through the week.  I managed a quick, calm session on Wednesday morning and a longer breezy attempt this morning.  I got caught out badly with the rain on Wednesday when it arrived an hour early and drenched me as I was taking down the nets.  The weather this morning was windier than I would have liked but I didn't want to miss the possibility of something special having been blown in by Abigail, as she passed just to the north.


The Thrush migration has tailed off, with only one Redwing seen on Wednesday and five this morning.  There have been no Fieldfare and much fewer Blackbird and Song Thrush.
Finches are still moving, with more Goldfinches passing through, more Linnets (including a flock of 40+), new Chaffinches and 8 Siskin, which are the first on the site this year.
Whooper Swans were ever present this morning going back and forth and it was difficult to put a number on them but certainly at least 40 but possibly 60+.  Other notable species over the week were Merlin, Snipe, Water Rail (3 calling), Greylag Geese, Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe.


This morning I witnessed a 5 minute game of cat and mouse between a Sparrowhawk and a Skylark.  I was initially drawn to the strange song/call mix of the Skylark high in the sky and noticed it dodging a Sparrowhawk repeatedly.  They were dropping at high speed and rising time and time again and the Skylark continued to call throughout.  I didn't get to see the outcome as they dropped out of view but I'd like to think the wily Skylark slipped away.


The catching has been pretty slow but better on Wednesday morning with 20 new birds.  The numbers and species mix really highlight that the season is nearly at an end.  I will persevere up until the end of the month if the weather permits it.  Three more Song Thrush is pleasing and takes the total up to an impressive 29 new birds.  Ten new Linnet is also nice and with the right conditions, the catch would be much better.

Ringing Totals 11/11/ & 14/11/2015                                     
                                       New        Retrap           
Blackbird                                         2 
Blue Tit                           2
Bullfinch                         1               1
Chaffinch                        3              
Coal Tit                                             3                             
Dunnock                                           1
Goldcrest                         2               1
Goldfinch                         8               4
Great Tit                                           1           
Linnet                             10
Redwing                          1
Reed Bunting                  1
Robin                               1               2                                                          
Song Thrush                   3                                                                     
Wren                                                 3

Total                               32             18                

A rather large Song Thrush with a wing of 126 and weighing just shy of 90 grams.

The golf club have been doing quite a bit of work removing a large area of scrub over the past week or so.  I of course understand the importance of the work but unfortunately 'East Ride' has been reduced from 66 metres to 22 metres and I don't believe they are finished just yet.  The top image was taken on Friday the 6th and the later this morning.  I may need to bring the chainsaw out and do a little work later in the winter, once I know where we stand.

Storm Petrel Recoveries

It looks as though the Treshnish Isles Auk Ringing Group were busy between the 29th of June and 3rd of July on the isles of Lunga and Fladda.  In this period they managed to control five of our Storm Petrels; two from 2013 and three from 2014.  The distance covered to Lunga by four birds was 146km and 148km to Fladda by the fifth bird.  Declan Clarke who rings Stormies down in County Down also had four of his birds controlled in the same period.  Going by the numbers from us alone I can only presume they caught very large numbers of birds and a lot of controls!  The islands are designated as a Special Protection Area and hold 5,040 pairs of Storm Petrels, representing at least 5.9% of the breeding population in Great Britain - most of these on Lunga.

A movement of five of our Storm Petrels to the Treshnish Isles
Point A marks out the Isle Fladda and Point B - Lunga

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Ringing Update 31/10/2015 - 04/11/2015

The forecast for this morning was perfect, with full cloud cover and basically no wind, so I took the morning off work and headed down to the dunes at Portstewart Strand.  On arrival in the dark, I could hear Redwing and Fieldfare calling overhead and once the first light crept into the sky, the Blackbirds and Song Thrush became a little vocal.
 As I was alone, I limited myself to the gorse nets, the feeder V, the alder net and the first 24 metres of west ride.  Ken joined me a little later, after this first couple of net rounds. 


The only real interest on shore was a Merlin that passed low over the saltmarsh, stirring up the Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails.  The Fieldfares outnumbered the Redwing, with c30 birds and they did their best to avoid the nets.  The estuary was packed with wildfowl and waders today, with the usual suspects, plus 29 Whooper Swans & an unidentified flock of geese that took off before first light.   

The first three rounds were the most productive and I picked up another seven new thrushes with 3 Redwing, 2 Blackbird and 2 Song Thrush, which is pleasing.  Two new Goldcrests were also nice.  We seem to have missed the huge influx of Goldcrests into the UK here on the north coast of NI.  In fact the numbers are down on last year and that's with us ringing over an extra 5/6 months and using a lot more nets.  Things dropped midmorning so we started to pack up around 10 and I headed to work.


Ringing Totals 04/11/2015
                                      New        Retrap           
Blackbird                        2                   
Chaffinch                        2               1
Coal Tit                                            2                             
Goldcrest                         2
Goldfinch                        3               1
Great Tit                          3               2           
Redwing                          3
Robin                                               1                                                          
Song Thrush                   2               1                                                      
Wren                                1               1                 

Total                              18               9             

Long-tailed Tit

On Saturday the 31st of October, Ken played host to John and a possible new ringing trainee - Thom.  The conditions were very blustery with winds 12-14mph from the south, although this had little impact on the ringing, in Kens sheltered garden.  It was a mild day with plenty of sunshine.  The catch was steady through the morning with the highlight of a male Sparrowhawk.
A new net, set away from the feeders in some scrub, produced the Long-tailed Tit flock with the two Goldcrest. 

Ken's Garden Ringing Totals 16/10/2015

Blackbird                          1                 
Blue Tit                             5
Chaffinch                          1
Coal Tit                            11
Dunnock                            1
Goldcrest                          2             
Goldfinch                          2
Great Tit                            6              
Long-tailed tit                  11
Robin                                 1
Sparrowhawk                   1
Wren                                 3
Total                                 45                       

Simultaneously, I had headed down to Portstewart Strand for a net restricted session.  The site, being on the coast, is very exposed and the winds were very strong.  Southerlies can often prove to be more of a hindrance with the wind running straight along the river, into the estuary and directly at the best nets.  Northerlies tend to be some of the best, with the dune system acting as a barrier to the wind and the birds congregating on the sheltered south side, near the nets. 
For much of the morning I was wondering why I bothered getting out of my bed at 06.30 when I knew the forecasted winds?  I only set one gorse net, 30 metres in east ride and the feeder V.  West ride was inaccessible due to the massive tide in the estuary, covering the access with 1.5 feet of water.  It was incredibly mild for the last day of October with the thermometer hitting 14 degrees Celsius at 7am!
 I had only managed 1 new bird and two retraps by 10.30 but the wind final dropped (later than forecast) and I caught a few birds.  Up until this point, the feeder V was much too windy with, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a few tits gathering behind but not daring to make the leap of faith to the feeders.  This net set-up then caught 20 new Goldfinches and 5 retraps in the remaining hour, during which time I had taken down the other nets. 
I also grabbed the opportunity, in the quite spells, to do a little tree work and bring down some of the taller trees/bushes alongside some of the net rides.  I will continue this through the reminder of the season and hope to create lower, more luscious net rides. 

Ringing Totals 31/10/2015
                                           New        Retrap           

Blue Tit                                                 1
Goldcrest                                              1
Goldfinch                             20            4
Robin                                    1              1                                                                    
Total                                     21            7                   

The ringing site is visible on the far shore