Tuesday 30 August 2016

Last week of August

It has been a pretty quiet week with just a couple of ringing attempts at Portstewart Strand.  The spell of fine weather has delivered some new birds to the estuary with an arrival of c50/60 Common Terns with at least one Arctic Tern, a few Curlew Sandpiper plus others sightings of a Spotted Redshank and Ruff.  The best of the birds was picked up by John around 'East Ride' in the form of a Garden Warbler, which is a very nice bird for us on the north coast.  It was spotted again a few days later during a ringing session but not caught.  Other passerine migrants have been really thin on the ground with just a couple of Willow Warblers, one Blackcap and a Wheatear.

Willow Warbler

The ringing over the couple of sessions was very poor as a result of the lack of birds, with only a handful caught.  Ringing on similar dates last year produced up to 60 birds so the numbers continue to fall under par, indicating a poor breeding season.  Hopefully the northern migrants will be more plentiful from now to December!

Portstewart Strand Totals

Blackcap                 1
Blue Tit                   1
Dunnock                 2        1
Goldcrest                1        3
Goldfinch               7
Meadow Pipit         3        1
Robin                      2
Willow Warbler      3        1
Wren                       2

Totals                     22       6            

The Peregrine pair in Coleraine seem to have bred successfully this year following s few years of disturbance/persecution.  There have probably been two juveniles terrorising the birds of the estuary and have been providing a bit of entertainment - they have even been testing the large gulls.

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon

We received news of another one of our Storm Petrels being recovered in the Western Isles of Scotland.  The bird was retrapped in the Treshnish Isles on Lunga on the 26th June this year.  This is our sixth bird to the island group following 4 birds recovered on Lunga last year and another bird on Fladda.  Interestingly, two birds ringed at the same time as this bird were also recovered in the same place.  It was ringed on the 12th of July 2014 and recovered 715 days later at a distance of 146km.

Storm Petrel recovery on the Treshnish Isles

The Blackberries are ripening nicely at PSS so let's hope they can attract in some Sylvia warblers and a good run of thrushes.

Wheatear sat on the car avoiding the nets

Friday 19 August 2016

Failed Swallow Roost Catch, a few Storm Petrels and a new Species!

Last night we went ahead with our plan of trying out the first Swallow roost catch of the year followed up by a Storm Petrel ringing session.  Again it was John, Ken, Dineka and myself present.  The weather was an ideal with a warm, dry, calm and overcast evening.  We opted to use the University River Site for the roost catch where we have had success in the past.  The very large tide at the moment meant that the reed bed was flooded so we stuck to the willows.  There has been a lot of growth in the colonising trees over the past year and the site is in need of a bit of TLC (a blitzing with a chainsaw!).

We had the nets open and tapes on from around 19.00 but we failed to attract any more than 5 Swallows at a time and they were probably the same birds returning every so often.  In the end we caught a single Blue Tit, a Chiffchaff and zero Swallows.  We didn't do much better last year with the biggest catch of 25 birds and only c45 birds ringed over 3 attempts.  We plan to trial a new reedbed site in 2/3 weeks to see if we have any more luck.  Our best night in 2014 attracted c6000 Swallows with a catch of 125 birds, with the tapes switched off quickly with sagging nets. 


After the disappointment we headed down to Rinnagree Point hoping for a few more birds.  We were set up for 10pm and had to wait around an hour for the first bird to hit the nets.  We only added a further three Storm Petrels before we packed up around 00.30.
A feature of the night, and generally for the end of August, was the movement of waders along the coast with a number of Redshank, Oystercatcher, a Common Sandpiper and potentially a few Turnstones knocking about.  We hit lucky when a couple of Redshanks flew into the net, although being a small mesh net, only one stuck.  Redshank is a new species for us and Dineka was lucky enough to ring it having driven from Donegal for very few birds!

As mentioned in the last post, Gary almost got a full ring read on a Sandwich Tern in Portrush when out hunting for ringed gulls.  Fortunately the numbers clinched were enough to determine when and where the bird was ringed.  It was ringed way back on the 16th of July 1993 as a nestling 61 miles away at Ogilby Island, Strangford Lough, County Down.  This is the oldest Sandwich Tern we have recorded at 23 years and 26 days, beating our previous oldest birds of 20 years, 10 months and 5 days and 20 years, 4 months and 13 days.  That would mean the bird has undertaken around 46 migrations, perhaps as far as South Africa!   
It is also the second time we have traded a bird with Ogilby Island following the recovery of a dead Sandwich Tern at our Inch breeding colony six years after it had ringed at Ogilby back in 1988 - our only Sandwich Tern control (which is no surprise as we only ring pulli). 

Sandwich Tern movement

For more information on gulls and ring reading in Northern Ireland, check out Gary's blog -

I'm off to Venice next week but I'll hopefully be back in action next weekend and with any luck the others will find a weather window and get out in between then.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

PSS Ringing + Blawit and BHG Recoveries

John, Dineka and I were out again on Sunday morning in what were forecast to be perfect conditions.  We were on site for around 06.15 and set the usual nets minus the yet to be cleared West Ride.  Unfortunately the forecast proved wrong and we were hit with a prolonged spell of misty rain.  We waited it out for over an hour as the forecast maintained there would be no rain and took down a few of the furthest nets.
There were a few new birds about in the bushes with a couple of calling Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Goldcrest and Blackbird.  Other birds around included the first arrival of Snipe with c25 feeding on the open mudflats, a single Great Crested Grebe and a flock c30 SwallowsBlackcaps were again conspicuous in their absence with no birds heard or seen for a few weeks now.  At this time of year we would expect to catch 4/5 birds per session so it may hint at a poor breeding year.  Any Blackcaps we catch from now to December are quite possibly migrants from elsewhere.  The few Willow Warblers we heard today are likely to be the last of the year.       


Despite the rain stopping play we managed to catch a nice mixed bag of birds, if not numbers and it was clear that there were some birds moving with the capture of our second Whitethroat for the year and site (they don't breed at PSS), plus a juvenile Stonechat and Sedge Warbler.  We also managed a new ringing tick for the site in the form of a Pied Wagtail.  There are usually a few pairs around the estuary although they don't often venture near the nets.  We also get autumn movements of White Wagtails but they tend to stick to the mudflats.  The feeders failed to attract many birds but they are still being heavily used so I'll put that one down to the weather. 

Portstewart Strand 14/08/2016                                     
                                       New     Retraps
Bullfinch                          1
Dunnock                          1
Goldfinch                         5           
Lesser Redpoll                                 2
Meadow Pipit                   1
Pied Wagtail                     1
Reed Bunting                   1
Robin                                1                        

Sedge Warbler                  1
Song Thrush                      2
Stonechat                          1
Whitethroat                       1
Wren                                 1

Total                                17             2        

Pied Wagtail

Gary from the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull survey has been out ring reading on the North Coast and has picked up the first mover from the Black-headed Gull chicks ringed at Inch this year.  Surprisingly it was one of the 39 birds ringed on the 8th of June without a colour ring that he spotted at the East Strand, Portrush (in our broader local patch); 34 miles from Inch.
With 122 birds now bearing colour rings we are expecting a number of recoveries and it will hopefully paint a better picture of the winter movements of these birds.  Whilst out, Gary also picked up the returning BHG from Finland at Christie Park, Coleraine plus a partial ring read on a Sandwich Tern - DK6678#  Ring a bell to anyone?

Black-headed Gull movement

The ringing details of the latest colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit have arrived and it is the second bird we have picked up from Charente Maritime, Moëze (A) on the west coast of France, roughly 30km south of La Rochelle. 
It was ringed on the 7th of March 2009 as a 2+ year female and sighted on the Bann Estuary 2613 days later at a distance of 686 miles.  The bird was re-sighted three times around the Moëze area  - 24/08/2010, 08/03/3012 and 07/12/2012.  It was also sighted in Conyer, Kent (B) in England on the 14th of October 2011 and located exactly a month later on the north coast of France near Pontorson (C), 214 miles away.     

Colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit Movement

Details of the last bird from Moëze are available from the post on the 12th of May 2015 -

We plan to have our first go at catching roosting Swallows this Thursday so hopefully there are birds about.  Once we finish up with the Swallows we plan to head to Rinnagree for another Storm Petrel session.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Last Sunday morning I headed down to Portstewart Strand, to prep the site for the coming autumn season.  We had done a bit of 'whacking' a month ago or so, but there had been plenty more growth in this period, so the net rides were in need of a little TLC.  I brought a strimmer plus a blade head, so I was able to blitz the net rides into good condition and hopefully they won't need any further work until next summer.  I didn't finish the western net rides but hope to do those soon.

Lesser Redpoll

I also took the opportunity to set up a feeding station around the 'East Ride' net run.  We first used feeders at the site this spring from April-May and they worked well to attract Goldfinch and Linnets but they should be more prolific through the autumn.... if we can keep them topped up.  I have scrapped feeding in the garden and will focus solely on Portstewart Strand - the cost of running two feeding stations, the chance of oddities at PSS, plus the hundreds of tits in the garden make the decision an easy one.  I had a couple of nets open while on site catching only a handful of birds - included in the totals below.   

'East Ride'

Yesterday morning (Saturday) presented the first opportunity to ring at the site with John, Dineka and myself present.  We arrived on site at 06.30 in calm, sunny conditions and set up the Gorse Nets, East Ride, the first 24m of WR plus a new 12m net by the feeders.  It was clear to see that the feeding station is having the desired effect with near empty feeders and plenty of droppings.

The new feeding station

The catch was decent but we were very dependant on the feeders which caught the majority of the 15 Goldfinches and 6 Lesser Redpolls plus the 2 ChaffinchReed Bunting and Great Tit.  All but one of the Goldfinches and Lesser Redpolls were juveniles.  There were still a couple of singing Willow Warblers about but only one juvenile was caught plus a complete absence of Blackcaps.  The feeding station should only get better over the next few months and hopefully attract a few more species.   
The clouds started to gather around 10am, so we packed up and it was a wise choice as the heavens opened just as we were finishing off. 

Portstewart Strand 06/08/2016 (+ 3(3) from 31/07/2016)                                      
                                       New     Retraps

Blue Tit                                            1     
Bullfinch                          4
Chaffinch                         2
Dunnock                          1
Goldcrest                         1
Goldfinch                        14             1
Great Tit                           1
Lesser Redpoll                 5              1
Linnet                               1
Meadow Pipit                   1
Reed Bunting                   1
Robin                                3             2            
Willow Warbler                  1
Wren                                 2

Total                                37             5        


News has come in about one of the colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits sighted in the Bann Estuary back at the start of May.  As suspected the bird was indeed Portuguese having been ringed at Alhos Vedros (South Tank), Tagus Estuary, Setúbal, Portugal on the 12th of November 2008 as an adult female.  The bird was subsequently recorded 18 times over the next five winters between October and mid-March in and around the Tagus estuary.  She was also recorded on the way north last Spring on the 17th of April at Bovenkerkerpolder, Amstelveen, Noord Holland, Netherlands.
The other CR Black-tailed Godwit has been confirmed as a French bird but exact details have not been received as yet.

Black-tailed Godwit recovery

John, Jeff and Dineka were out again on Monday night catching Storm Petrels at Rinnagree Point.  The conditions were ideal but it was quite yet again with 9 new birds and a single British controlled bird.  The birds disappeared before 1am with the net taken down half an hour later.  Overall numbers caught are down but the first few weeks of August can still produce catches of over 50 birds, so we plan to get 3/4 more attempts in before the month is out. 

Storm Petrel

Steve was out ringing in his garden last Sunday and caught a nice mixed bag of species.  As of this week he is now a married man so the shackles are on!

Steve's Garden 31/07/2016                                      
                                       New     Retraps
Coal Tit                                           1
Chaffinch                          1
Dunnock                           1
Great Tit                            2
Greenfinch                        1   
House Sparrow                 5    
Robin                                1
Willow Warbler                 1    
Wren                                 1     

Total                                13            1          


Dodgy phone scoped Common Sandpiper
Some of the 115+ Sandwich Terns roosting in the estuary with at least 7 bearing rings