Tuesday 16 May 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory 9th-11th May

On Tuesday the 9th I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory for my first mid-week stay accompanied by Laurence from the Belfast and Down Ringing Group.  The trip had been arranged to accommodate a work party of 10 from a local NGO but they unfortunately had to cancel.  The forecast looked rather decent and I like to get out to the island this time of year so we decided to press ahead anyway. 


The said forecast was as predicted for the two night stay with hardly a cloud in the sky and some very warm weather.  The winds weren't fantastic for migration with northerlies on Saturday morning/afternoon and easterlies for the rest but a number of birds still passed through.  The island is dry as I have ever seen it following almost 3 weeks without rain.  I had said something very similar in a post this time last year but it was much drier this time with the pond down to a muddy sludge and cracked earth all over island.  The island still looks fantastic with the millions of flowers of Bluebell, Crab Apple, Marsh Marigold, Red Campion, Sea Campion, Scarlet Pimpernel and Thrift to name but a few.   

The image above shows the remaining mud in the garden pond and the keen eyed will notice a couple of Swallows and a Pied Wagtail in the net which I put up to take advantage of the dozens of Swallows swooping low over the surface. 

Pied Wagtail

Over the weekend hirundines were the most conspicuous migrants with 175+ Swallows passing through (plus a few resident birds) and 15+ House Martins.  14 Swallows were captured and a single House Martin which was the first of the year.  Swifts made an early dash through on Wednesday morning with at least 6. 
I didn't pay much attention to the action offshore but certainly on Sunday there were obviously fish on the move with lots of Razorbills, Guillemots, Gannets and gulls working the shoals (plus a few angling boats).  The first Common Terns of the year arrived on Wednesday, with even more the following day plus the first Arctic Terns while Sandwich Terns were present throughout.  The Puffin numbers reached 28 with a number visiting the burrows and Black Guillemots hit 66.   

House Martin

The breeding birds are very busy with many of the Eider, Herring Gulls and Reed Buntings incubating their first eggs and the likes of Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Stock Dove and Rock Pipit feeding chicks.  It will be a busy few months with the Black Guillemots, Common Gulls, Fulmars, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Swallows joining the mix and with any luck the Arctic/Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Puffins will have a successful year.  A retrap female Blackcap and a skulking singing male Blackcap suggest they may breed once again and hopefully the singing male Sedge Warblers will hang around after a few years absence. 
Another species new to the ringing list and species list for the year was Whitethroat with three caught over the weekend with a further 3 Sedge Warbler and 3 Willow Warbler.  Corvids were on the move with plenty of Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and two Carrion Crow passing over.  Seven Jackdaw stopped by for a quick feed in the crow trap and were duly ringed. 

Water Rail

A few other nice captures included a smart looking retrap Water Rail, the 8th Wheatear of the season (one of three present) and a late Song Thrush.  Non-avian sightings were made up of 40+ Green-veined White butterflies plus the first Red Admiral of the year. 
We got a little work done on Saturday afternoon when we patched up the holes in the crow trap (which provided immediate dividends in the Jackdaws) and started a bit of grass cutting which is a monumental task. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 09-11/05/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                 3               
Blackcap                                  1

House Martin           1
Jackdaw                   7
Pied Wagtail            1                
Reed Bunting                           2
Robin                        1              3         

Rock Pipit                                 1
Sedge Warbler         3
Song Thrush            1
Swallow                   14
Water Rail                                 1   
Wheatear                  1    
Whitethroat              3
Willow Warbler        3            
Wren                                          3              

Totals                      35              14                     


My personal CBO patch list for the year is up to 76 species which is around my usual year total of 75-80 with the autumn still to come.  The Observatory as a whole is having a very decent season in terms of variety and has reached 93 species with the addition of Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher in the weekend past.  To keep up to date with the species list you can check the CBO website at  - http://www.thecbo.org.uk/birds/2017-species-list/

Moon lit sea and sky to the south east

I'm off to the Observatory again this coming weekend with a party of 12 people, 10 of those ringers.  Migrants at this time of year are very thin on the ground with the last trickle of tardy birds passing through but it does produces some of CBOs best spring rarities.  Hopefully with a bit of luck there will be a few birds to share around but the northerlies don't look promising. 
I head off to Italy for a few weeks the following weekend so activity will be limited until mid June, just in time for Sand Martin season.

Monday 15 May 2017

Early May

Yet another quick update but I will follow up with a full post on a mid-week trip to Copeland Bird Observatory.  The great weather has continued with wall to wall sunshine for over two weeks now, although it has been a little windy for ringing.  Since the last post there have only been two ringing attempts, the first of those was the public bird ringing demonstration and the second was to Grangemore.

The forecast for the Saturday morning of the public bird walk and ringing demonstration was quite windy but we hoped to get a little shelter in the 'East Ride' nets.  John, Steve and I arrived before 7am and there was hardly a breath of wind, so we set the majority of nets but within an hour the wind had whipped up and we needed to take a couple down.  The brisk wind affected the catch and generally most of the birds were taking shelter in the dense scrub.  There were a few new species for the year with the first 3 Swifts, a Whitethroat, 2 Great Crested Grebes and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, along with another 52 species sighted. 

Willow Warbler

Although the catch was small the visitors were very pleased to see their first birds in the hand and got the opportunity to see some Blackcap, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler.  The others manned the nets while I continued the walk along the estuary shore to the Barmouth.  The final catch was (retraps in brackets) Blackbird (1), Blackcap 1, Bullfinch (2), Dunnock 1 (2), Goldcrest (1), Great Tit (1) Reed Bunting 1 and Willow Warbler 2 (1). 

The following day the forecast was much better with the wind abating to a light breeze and a marked increase in temperature so the first visit of the year to Grangemore was in order.  I was a little tired and solo so I didn't arrive down until 8am and set just the four nets - two across the main ditch and 40 metres in the larger reedbed on this side of the river. In and around the marsh there were at least 6 pairs of Sedge Warbler (many more across the river), 2 singing male Grasshopper Warblers, 2 pairs of Stonechat and countless Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.    While there I finished off some of the 'bridges' to cross the sheughs with the aid of old scaffolding planks kindly donated by David.

Sedge Warbler

The catch was modest and I was only likely to catch a maximum of six Sedge Warblers with the territories well defined and the placement of the nets, so to catch four new birds was pleasing.  A single Sand Martin and a Meadow Pipit completed the days catch.  The next visit will probably be in mid-June for the first visit to the Sand Martin colony and hopefully the first wave of juveniles. 

Images of the 'wader pools' highlighting how dry it has been of late

As I said at the start of the post I will follow up with a post on my recent Copeland Bird Observatory trip and I'll perhaps see if David S wants to write a bit about his weekend trip!  The patch list for the estuary has now topped the 100 mark by two and I'm well on the way to matching last years 123 species. 

Friday 5 May 2017

Late April - 1st May 2017

Again we have been pretty busy at the weekends and not had a great deal of time to get out ringing but I have managed two visits to Portstewart Strand and ticked off a few other bits and pieces.

The majority of the local breeding birds are back on territory in the Bann Estuary with the Grasshopper Warblers and Sedge Warblers joining the mix and now only Whitethroat are missing (although they are few and far between anyway).  There has been pretty decent late passage of Wheatears following the lack of birds in early spring and this peaked on Monday when there were 13+ Greenland Wheatears present.  I didn't have any traps but luckily this fine looking male found its way into the exact same spot in the furthest net as the single Wheatear did last year!

Greenland Wheatear

Many of the year round residents i.e. Bullfinch, Robin and Wren are well into their breeding cycle, perhaps incubating and have been pretty inconspicuous and not been appearing in the nets.  Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Reed Bunting have been the main species caught with a combined total of 12 ringed plus another returning Willow Warbler originally ringed in 2015.  



Reed Bunting pair

Each year we normally visit a few of the local Dipper nests and ring the chicks, generally in the c20 boxes Ken has put up.  I took the opportunity to visit a few of the natural nests and was late on a couple with the chicks having fledged already but I did find two with ringable broods - 4 and 3.   

Dipper chicks

Dipper nest

A few weeks back I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory for a work party day to fix up some of the traps and to set up the tern decoys and boxes.  There were a few birds moving through and the ringers on the island (for the week) had a decent catch of Willow Warblers and a few Wheatears and kindly let me ring a Stock Dove.  Stock Doves are very scarce in Northern Ireland and The Copeland Islands are probably only one of a handful of places you can find them.

Stock Dove

While the weather has been nice but windy I grabbed the opportunity to visit Grangemore and sort out some new net rides amongst the reeds and make some 'bridges' to cross the main drain that bisects the site.  I'm hoping the effort will greatly increase the number of Sedge Warblers we ring this year. with the added bonus of a few extra Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Bunting.

Last Sunday I led a Dawn Chorus walk through a woodland in the Glens of Antrim for work and we had a decent turn out and were treated to a sighting of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, which are still very rare in NI.  The woodland would be perfect for a breeding pair or two so watch this space over the next few years.  We have 75 next boxes throughout the woodland so I took a chance to check 15 boxes and found occupied nests with eggs of Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Great Tit, ringing the sitting females.  We will do the proper look around in 2/3 weeks time and ring the chicks.   

We are hosting a public bird walk and ringing demonstration at Portstewart Strand from 9am on Saturday morning (tomorrow), so if anyone is interested you are welcome to come along.