Wednesday 30 March 2016

Easter Ringing

On Easter Monday, John and I visited Portstewart Strand bright and early in the hopes of connecting with the first summer migrants.  The forecast wasn't quite on the mark and we had to wait in the car, on arrival, for a shower to pass.  The winds were 15-20mph from the north west, which is fine for basically all our net rides, as they are generally only affected by wind from the south and east, along the exposed estuary shore. 


There is still a wintery feel around the estuary with Whooper Swans passing through, groups of Teal, Wigeon and Red-breasted Mergansers on the water, flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet continuing to visit the feeders, a single Redwing dropping in to 'East Ride', plus it was only 4 °C. 
There were a few new birds about including c150 Black-tailed Godwit, a new female Stonechat, a Sparrowhawk and the Bullfinches and Robins have returned from wherever they disappear to for the winter.      


It was a good session, with the feeders continuing to produce the majority of  the birds, plus a few nice birds in Sparrowhawk, Reed Bunting and Redwing.  That takes us up to 19 different species ringed so far this year at the site, in less than a month, so a good start to better last years 29. 

Ringing Totals - PSS 28/03/2016                                     
                                      New       Retraps          
Blackbird                        2               
Blue Tit                            1               1                   
Bullfinch                                           1                
Goldfinch                        2               1                                                  
Linnet                              8               1                                             
Redwing                          1                    
Reed bunting                  2                 1
Robin                               2    
Song Thrush                                     1
Sparrowhawk                 1                              

Total                                19              6        

Saturday looks to be the next suitable slot for our next visit and is open to anyone who would like to come along.  The first spring summer migrants are bound to be by then.... probably!
Also check out the new tab above - 'The Birds' for images of the species ringed by the group in the past 4/5 years in Northern Ireland, Donegal and Mayo. 
Reed Bunting

Sunday 27 March 2016

River ringing, Portstewart Strand and Colour ringed Greylag

This morning we spent a couple of hours ringing on some of the small local rivers, hoping to catch some of the riparian species.  John and I were joined by two new potential ringers  - Dineka and Nicholas, who were keen to see what it is all about.  We had opted for some river ringing because of the blustery forecast, managing to find a few sheltered locations.


We spent around half an hour at three locations, catching a single Dipper at each.  The first spot was in the University campus, with a couple of Dippers present.  The bird trapped was a retrap from last year.  Location two was on the River Rhee and had two Dippers and two Grey Wagtails present.  Both Grey Wagtails went into the net straight away, but one bounced (twice) and the second had been lightly caught and flipped out before extraction.  The Dipper captured was a new bird , while its partner slipped under the net.  The third site was roughly one kilometre down stream and had a single Dipper and Grey Wagtail present, with the former being trapped.    

Site 2 which usually produces Dipper and Kingfisher

On Good Friday I took the day off work and headed down to Portstewart Strand for a short session.  The weather did as forecast and got a little breezy around 9am, meaning I had to take down all but the two most sheltered nets.  There was little change in the birds from the 17th and nothing new for the year but I did have my first sighting of one of the Otters since November.  The down time wasn't so bad as I was able to work on driftwood bird perches close to the network of nets through the Gorse.  Hopefully it will produce a Wheatear in the coming weeks or perhaps a Merlin in the autumn.  Another plus was that the National Trust arrived down mid morning and took away the heap of rubbish I had collected throughout the month.     


I caught a total of 11 birds through the morning, three of which were retraps.  The single net in front of the feeders caught 9 of those with six Goldfinches, two Linnets and a Dunnock.  A pair of Goldcrests were trapped at the other net.


Finally, the first summer migrants have made it to the North Coast of Northern Ireland, when I recorded my first two Sand Martins by the house on Friday the 25th.  The numbers climbed to 4 on Saturday and c15 today.  They will hang about over the river for the next few weeks, then disappear to the breeding sites a few miles away and I probably won't see any here for another year! 
The forecast looks decent for Easter Monday and Tuesday and we hope to get out on both mornings.  With any luck the first Wheatears will appear and perhaps a Chiffchaff or two, which only appear at the site on passage.

I have spotted up a few ringed/colour ringed birds at the Myroe Levels in recent weeks but unfortunately I wasn't able to clinch the details on the two Whooper Swans (although most likely Icelandic).  I did get the full details of a Greylag Goose with a neck collar, which was in the company of 18 Greenland White-fronted Geese and 27 other Greylags.
Dodgy record shot taken on my phone through the telescope - Greylags plus one White-front

The bird had originally been ringed at Lough Eye, in the Moray Basin in Scotland back in November 2005.  The bird is of the Icelandic breeding population has wintered in the north of Ireland and Scotland in most years since ringing - the birds sighting history is listed below.

L.Eye 06/11/2005
Batchen, Miltonduff, Elgin 14/11/2005
Toome, lough Beg 05/03/2006
Toome, lough Beg 09/03/2006
Toome, lough Beg 29/03/2006
Inch Is, Co Donegal 11/11/2007
Inch Is, Co Donegal 19/01/2008
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 21/11/2010
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 22/11/2010
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 23/11/2010
Shiskine, Isle of Arran 30/12/2010
Loch Askog, Isle of Bute 19/12/2011
Loch Quien, Isle of Bute 16/04/2012
Inch Lough 12/01/2013
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 28/11/2014
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 21/01/2015
Inch Levels, Lough Swilly, Donegal 30/01/2016
Myroe Levels, Co.Derry 12/03/2016

Monday 21 March 2016

Mid March 2016 Ringing

Over the past week or so we managed to utilise the calm, settled weather and got the first two full ringing sessions of the season in at Portstewart Strand.
The first session was on Saturday the 13th, attended by myself and John, in decent conditions.  I managed to leave my full net kit at home, so we made so with Johns gear.
It is still a little early for the summer migrants but a few winter migrants were still in attendance.  Whooper Swans were a feature of the morning with a constant trickle of birds heading out over the Atlantic Ocean, with a single flock of Greylag Geese.  A couple of Redwings passed over early on and the Reed Buntings are still gathered in a small flock of c8 birds. 

Whooper Swans migrating north
The catch was augmented by the feeders, which have been attracting small flocks of Goldfinch, Linnet and a few other species.  Two new Redwings have added to a healthy winter total plus the bonus of a new Stonechat, after 9 new birds last year.  The unringed male Stonechat avoided capture but it may well hang around.  The two Redwing were actually obviously different in size in flight and the biometrics backed this up.  The figures don't quite go as far to definitely differentiate the birds to race but appearance would be supportive.

The larger, darker bird on the left would certainly appear to be of the Icelandic race 'Turdus iliacus coburni', which, for us on the north coast of Northern Ireland, is probably the nominate race.  The bird on the right may well be of the Northern European race ' Turdus iliacus iliacus'. 

The undertail coverts on the Redwing were also very different, again with the 'coburni' on the left and suspected 'iliacus' bird on the right. 

Ringing Totals                                     
                                      New       Retraps          
Blackbird                        1                1
Chaffinch                        1                  
Dunnock                         1                2             
Goldfinch                        3               1
Great Tit                          1                                 
Linnet                              1                                             
Redwing                          2                    
Stonechat                        1                              
Total                               11               4      

I went solo on Thursday morning hoping Saint Patrick might bring me a little bit of luck.  The conditions and birds were very similar to the previous session, minus the Greylag Goose flock and the Stonechats.  The conditions were very sunny mid morning and it was very pleasant to be out along the estuary.  During the quiet spells I was able to do a little more tidying along the shore but there is still a lot of work to do! 

Image looking across the areas of the Gorse Rides, East ride behind and West Ride in the distance

The ringing was slightly busier than the previous attempt with the feeders catching 3 Linnet, 4 Goldfinch and a Lesser Redpoll.  The first Bullfinch and Meadow Pipits of the year take us up to 14 different species; hopefully on the way to improve on last years total of 29 species. 
If last year is anything to go by we should expect the number of Bullfinch and Lesser Redpoll to increase over the coming weeks, as the birds return to breed and the first Willow Warblers should arrive around a week into April. 

Ringing Totals                                     
                                      New       Retraps          
Bullfinch                         1               
Dunnock                                           2           
Goldfinch                        3                1
Lesser Redpoll               1                                     
Linnet                             3
Meadow Pipit                 2                1          
Redwing                         1                                           
Robin                             1                1                                                                                 
Wren                                                1                    
Total                             12                6      

John and I helped out at the final Copeland Bird Observatory Training session of the winter on Sunday morning.  There was a good turn out at the site near Antrim, with 11 people, but warm sunshine and blue skies resulted in a quite morning.  The catch was a mixed bag of Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Goldfinch with around 25 birds in total. 

The observatory is now operational every weekend right through to October, so the trainees have ample opportunity to get out and improve their skills. 
The Observatory is open to everybody and is cheap and easy to visit.  For more information, check out -
The 2016 ringing at the Observatory has kicked off nicely with catches of c20 Goldcrest, 6 Redwing, 1 Twite, c10 Robin, c5 Blackbird, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit, 5 Chaffinch and a few other odds and ends over the first two weekends. 

Easter is coming up next week, so hopefully the weather (and birds) will be kind to use and we can fit a few sessions in. 

Monday 7 March 2016

2016 Ringing Season Prep and Visit 1 to PSS

Last Saturday, John and I headed down early to Portstewart Strand to get the site ready for the coming ringing season.  The site is a designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest & Special Area of Conservation, so any work has to be carried out before the beginning of March.  We had quite a bit of work to do, as we lost the majority of 'East Ride', which was 66 metres long, due to scrub management by the golf club.  The result was a large clear felled area of the invasive Sea Buckthorn, including removal of the roots.  We were of course given prior notification and are very supportive of the clubs habitat management program and grateful for access to the site.

Part of the clear felled East Ride

The net ride had been reduced down to around 20 metres, so with the use of the chainsaw, we were able to blitz a new path through the dense scrub and extend it back up to 48m. We then have the option of a 12m extension which has cover on one side and what should hopefully be an area full of seed bearing weeds, on the newly exposed ground.  The ride probably won't be overly productive this year, as many of the buds had already formed (and then removed), thus leaving it a little bare.  Everything should hopefully green up before the first summer migrants arrive - the first Willow Warblers appeared on the 9th of April, so we have around a month to go. 
We also gave the other rides a little TLC, topping a few taller bushes beside the nets and cutting back the brambles. 

The new, rather rough, East Ride

John and I went for the first proper ringing session of the season on Sunday morning in ideal conditions.  We set most nets but it remained very quite with only a few birds caught.  We had set a few feeders in and around 'East Ride' last weekend and it was from those that we caught most of the birds, attracting a few Goldfinch and Linnet.
The Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are in full song and ready for the breeding season and it was one of the former that bundled its way into the 18m three shelf gorse net, making a nice start to the season.   


Ringing Totals                                     
                                      New       Retraps          
Blue Tit                                           1 
Dunnock                       2                3
Goldfinch                      2                1         
Linnet                            2                                               
Robin                                               3
Skylark                          1 
Song Thrush                 1  
Wren                              1               1             
Total                               9               9      

During the quite spells I put up four next boxes in amongst some of the only mature trees on the site.  Two of the boxes are closed face, with the other two open and they have no real target species in mind.  We don't actually do any nest recording/searching on site, so it will be nice to some pulli in the scrub. 
The tideline of the estuary is in a bit of a state following the winter, so I started a bit of a tidy up.  I amassed quite a bit of rubbish in a pretty short stretch of the shore.  Over the coming months we will tidy further bits as we walk back and forth and hopefully keep it tidy until next winter.

On Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon I spent a bit time putting up more next boxes in a couple of locations.  On Saturday morning I put up ten closed face boxes and two open faced, at the derelict farm at Grangemore on the other side of the Estuary, owned by the National Trust.  This is the only location in the estuary that I see Tree Sparrows with any regularity and the hope is to boost the population, which is usually around 3/4 pairs. 

Nest boxes at Grangemore

In Caslteroe Wood we have had 30 closed face boxes in place for a number of years, which usually have a 50-75% occupancy of Blue Tits and Great Tits.  One of the boxes had gone missing, so I replaced it and added six new open faced boxes (in twos) in locations I observed Spotted Flycatchers last June.  The boxes are potentially a little low for Spotted Flycatchers but they were all placed in relatively concealed/sheltered locations on Ivy covered trees.  The last few boxes went up around my house for the local House Sparrows, although I may be a little too late, as a few of the birds appear to have paired up and found the usual nest sites under the ridge of the roof.    
Ken has initiated another nest box study on the University Campus and has erected c30 boxes as part of this scheme, looking at tree species preference for titmice.  We have three Kestrel boxes left to go back up, after which, I may spend a bit of time updating the nest box information in the Projects/Activities above.
That is us more a less ready to roll for migration and the breeding season, so hopefully here on out it will be ringing! 

I am taking part in the Patchwork Challenge for a second year with my patch of the Bann Estuary.  As of Saturday morning, I have notched up 75 species with the best birds of Merlin, Gadwall and a patch tick in Red-throated Diver.  The Irish contingent this year has increased to 29 patches and has now been divided into two sections, with coastal and inland patches. 
For more info on the coastal patches, check out the link below.  For blog posts, check out Patch Birding Ireland on the side bar.