Wednesday 21 June 2017

May/June Ringing Update

Sand Martin season is back upon us and the first visit to Grangemore has kicked things off in style.  Pre-holiday I had noticed a number of new burrows on the main sand bank, a new colony of around 15 pairs on the golf course at Portstewart Strand across the river where they were excavating sand and 3/4 pairs had recolonized the sand banks at the Barmouth, so numbers in the estuary were looking up.
On arrival last Wednesday there were over 70 birds perched along the fences above the bank with many juveniles amongst them and a further 50 flying around the site.  David and I quickly got the nets up in front of the burrows and immediately caught a dozen birds flying out.  The conditions were actually very breezy but the bank was perfectly sheltered on the outer bend of the smaller Articlave River.

Over the next hour or so we caught an impressive total of 135 new birds and 12 retraps.  Given the quantity of birds we were not recording biometrics and simply ringing, ageing, sexing and release.  The totals were 61 males, 48 females, 35 juveniles and three were unsexed adults.  This total is greater than the three visits last year combined so it could be a very big year.  I did count the number of likely active burrows but I don't have a notion what that was now - maybe c85-100!  The retraps were mostly from the colony from the previous year but one was one of the birds that has moved from our other colony 12.6km away which we caught here last July.  Another was the single bird I had caught in the reedbed close by a few weeks ago.  The first visit to Macfin is due very soon and any trainees are welcome to come along (c150 pair colony).

Juvenile Sand Martin

Following the visit to the Sand Martin colony we still had a few hours to spare before lunch so we decided to do some river ringing, which was a first for David.  We opted for one of the better spots where we regularly catch both Dippers and Kingfishers and the odd Grey Wagtail.

With the 6m net up across the river it wasn't long before a female Kingfisher came up river at full speed but unfortunately managed to flip out of the net within 5 seconds.  We had to wait another 10-15 minutes before some Dippers appeared down river and one duly flew in the net but the other thought better of it.  The male Kingfisher was being very vocal just up river for 10 minutes before it to dropped into the net. 
A decent morning and some great experience for David handling 2 new species and 149 birds!


Back on the 19th of May I spent a morning checking the 75 nest boxes in the wood in the Glens of Antrim (after a quick look a few weeks previous) and things have improved after the initial year of the scheme in 2016.  This year there were 17 active nests with 9 Blue Tit, 7 Great Tit and a single Coal Tit nest.  The nests were at very different stages with some of the Blue Tits on eggs and the early Coal Tits had already fledged some young.  I didn't ring all the chicks as some were too large and ready to burst or too small.

Healthy Blue Tit brood ready to fly the nest

When I entered the wood I had picked up the distant utterings of a Wood Warbler so I spent 10 minutes following the trail and tracked down the smart displaying male.  This was a first for me and a very uncommon bird in Northern Ireland with no breeding records for the past few years, only 2-3 sightings in that period and probably the only pair in Northern Ireland (a female was located a few weeks later).

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is continuing its charge across Ireland and reached the Glens of Antrim last year.  The study wood is ideal habitat with large old trees and some dead standing trees and has had a female for over a year.  There were quite a few vocal calls (chiuck chiuck (kind of)) but I didn't have a chance to track them down.  I had given another birder the heads up about the Wood Warblers and he managed to find a GSW nest with two chicks, so brilliant news for the wood!  I did pay a visit on my return from holidays but the chicks appear to have fledged.  I'm not sure how the male has been so evasive as I'm not aware of any sightings.  When there, I also checked half the boxes and all occupied nests fledged their young bar one which still contained a brood of Blue Tits which were suitable for ringing.  

Last year a pair of Tree Sparrows took up residence in a nestbox at Grangemore but unfortunately failed at the egg stage.  This year things had improved and we had two active nests, one with three eggs and another with two.  I had left the follow up visit for a little longer than I hoped and found that the nest with 3 eggs had fledged and the other nest had a well developed chick and a cold egg.  There are around a dozen boxes scattered around the abandoned small farm so hopefully the box uptake will continue to improve.  I have checked to see if they will attempt a second brood but seemingly not.

We have made two visits to Portstewart Strand in the past 6 weeks and although things have been relatively quiet the first wave of juveniles are flitting between the bushes.  I hope to visit again this coming weekend as we will be kept off site for the following two weeks as Portstewart Golf Club are hosting the 2017 Irish Open which is going to be massive with tens of thousands of spectators!  Himalayan Balsam has started to take root at the site so I spent half an hour trying to remove all the plants before they seed.  I pulled 529 plants, some a few inches high and am hoping that I got the lot but the river will continue to deposit more seeds given that it drains almost two thirds of Northern Ireland.

529 Himalayan Balsam plants

Portstewart Strand 26/05-17/06/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                 1            
Dunnock                  4                2

Chaffinch                 1                                         
Linnet                      11              

Meadow Pipit           1              
Robin                       2

Song Thrush            2
Stonechat                 1                        
Willow Warbler        3              
Wren                        2               1

Totals                      28             3                    

Juvenile Robin

When I was away John paid a visit to the River site at the University and caught around 20 birds which included five adult Blackcaps and half a dozen juvenile Blackbirds.  He has also been hunting out bird of prey nest sites but again the Long-eared Owls have beaten us to it with a few juveniles perched amongst the trees.

Long-eared Owl chicks   (copyright of John Clarke)

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory 19-21st May 2017

I was out at Copeland Bird Observatory for my third weekend of the year with a large party of two from the Observatory, six from the Belfast and Down Ringing Group, a rabbit researcher from Queens University Belfast and myself.  The forecast didn't promise much in the way of movement but as ever I'm always hopeful for something nice turn up in the nets.

As predicted the winds weren't overly compliant and migrants were thin on the ground.  We didn't totally hit a blank and trapped 2 Chiffchaff, a single Sedge Warbler and a late Redwing.  The girls from BDRG got a bit of practice catching and handling large gulls trapping three Herring Gulls and one Lesser-black Backed Gull on Saturday afternoon using nest traps.


On Friday night Rosie and Terry set up the moth trap around the garden pond in ideal conditions.  It was a decent catch with the Poplar Hawk moth looking the most spectacular plus 151 Campion, 1 Clouded Border, 20 White Ermine, 2 Flame Shoulder, 1 Angle Shades, 1 Sandy Carpet, 2 Spectacle, 3 Broom moths, a possible Bullrush Wainscott, possibly 4 Red-headed Chestnut, possibly 1 Twin-spot carpet and 17 unidentified micros, a couple rather dapper looking.  It is great spot for moth trapping although there has been little trapping in the past 10+ years.  Other lepidotera included c20 Green-veined White, 1 Red Admiral and 1 Speckled Wood butterflies.  As Records Secretary at the observatory I've not yet had the chance to look at any records other than birds yet but once I get everything in order I hope to work on the likes of cetaceans and moths etc.   

Poplar Hawk Moth

White Ermine

On Sunday afternoon, after news of our delayed boat, I spent a bit of time doing a full island gull count and searching for nests amongst the scrub.  A full circumference of the island produced c395 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, c360 Herring Gulls, 63 Common Gulls, 2 Great Black-back Gull nests and a few other bits and pieces including 11 pairs of Oystercatcher, at least 3 Fulmar nests with eggs (no doubt more) and a single Eider nest much higher up the shore than normal (there will have been plenty more on the lower shore but I didn't want to disturb the birds - there were 19 new female Eiders and 22 retraps caught midweek on Mew Island).  I had a bit of luck with some of the larger nests and turned up three occupied Woodpigeon nests and a single Magpie nest.  The Magpie nest, with five eggs, was actually within 40cm of a Woodpigeon next with two eggs as pictured below.  The other two WP nests had 2 well developed chicks and a single egg.

Woodpigeon nest to left and Magpie nest slightly up right
Woodpigeon chicks

Another benefit of the delayed boat was the sighting of a Marsh Harrier that drifted across to Mew Island as we sat in the hide late afternoon.  The large gulls didn't take kindly to its presence and it was swiftly escorted away.  Marsh Harriers are very uncommon in NI with only a handful of sightings in a good year and probably only 3-5 sighted at CBO since 1954. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 19-21/05/2017                           
                                                   New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                                      1
Chiffchaff                                    1                1
Goldfinch                                     1               1                                             
Jackdaw                                       1
Herring Gull                                 3
Lesser-black Backed Gull          1      
Pied Wagtail                                1
Redwing                                       1         
Reed Bunting                               2               5
Robin                                            1               2

Rock Pipit                                    1               1
Sedge Warbler                            1
Swallow                                        2
Woodpigeon                                2 (pulli)
Wren                                            2               1          

Totals                                          20              12           

Sundown over the Pub

Davis S went out to CBO the weekend before and despite being restricted by strong winds caught a further five Whitethroats and turned up the first Spotted Flycatchers of the year with two caught. 

Copeland Bird Observatory 12-14/05/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Chiffchaff                  3               
Manx Shearwater     1                                                           
Pied Wagtail             1           
Reed Bunting                           5            

Rock Pipit                                1
Sedge Warbler         1
Spotted Flycatcher  2    
Whitethroat              5
Willow Warbler        3
 Wren                                       1                            

Totals                      16              7                   

Spotted Flycatcher

Spot the Puffin decoys

30 minutes with a scythe cleaned up the Puffing breeding bank

The real deal