Thursday 28 September 2017

Portstewart Strand 28/09/2017

With a short weather window and a bit of availability John, Ken, David and I were back down at Portstewart Strand this morning to see what was moving through.

The aforementioned first arrival of thrushes came right on cue with upwards of 10 Blackbirds and 6+ Song Thrush amongst the scrub which were very audible just before first light. As such I stuck on a thrush mix tape and caught six Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush.

Coal Tit

The recent species are continuing to move through including the Tits with the addition of the first Coal Tits of the autumn with three ringed. Skylarks and Reed Bunting were also notable with many more around. Greenfinch is a very uncommon species in the direct site (not so in the wider estuary) and we caught only our second for the ringing site. 

Portstewart Strand 28/09/2017
                             New         Retrap
Blackbird               5
Blackcap                3
Blue Tit                  1
Bullfinch                1
Chaffinch               1
Coal Tit                  3
Dunnock                4
Goldcrest               3
Great Tit                 1                1
Greenfinch             1
Meadow Pipit         9
Reed Bunting         1
Robin                      1                3
Song Thrush          1
Wren                       6

Totals                    41                4

Meadow Pipit

A total of 53 species were sighted through the morning including a hunting Peregrine and two Long-eared Owls flying around before first light which dropped into roost at 06.35 and 06.41. 

The weekend trip to Copeland Bird Observatory has been given the green light although the forecast is a little wet and windy through Saturday night and Sunday so any ringing will be limited to Saturday morning! 

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Autumn Migration Underway

Now that autumn migration is in full swing our focus has switched back to Portstewart Strand and we have made a couple of visits in the past week. I was out on Sunday the 24th and John visited on Tuesday 26th and combined, we processed a total of 88 birds of 17 species, 69 of those on Sunday and 19 on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the conditions were absolutely perfect for the nets so I headed down before first light and set up 108 metres of net and three spring traps. The nets started to catch at once including 7 Blackcaps in one net on the first round in West Ride.
The open ground seemed much quieter to start but as the heat got going birds started to move including 100+ Goldfinches, c100 Linnets, 200+ Meadow Pipits, 10+ Stonechats, a few Pied/White Wagtails and c20 Skylarks. I picked up the Long-eared Owl roosting in the scrub once again, this time right beside a net ride two/three feet above my head. John had a search through on Tuesday and found a number of pellets and droppings along the net ride.
Long-eared owl Pellet

My best round of the morning was the final one but unfortunately, I had to be away by 12.30, so had to take down the nets. In total, I managed a total of 60 new birds and 9 retraps. The catches of Blackcap, Dunnock and Stonechat all represent the best daily catches at the site and, along with Bullfinch, were all species that have been short in numbers this year up to now. The Bullfinches are breeding late again this year with another two fairly fresh juvenile birds. The spring traps chipped in with one new Stonechat and a same day retrap.

On Tuesday morning things were much quieter for John with thick fog until around 11am when he started to pack up.  There was an arrival of Goldcrests seemingly with a good scattering throughout the scrub and 9 new birds trapped, all in the single 6m ‘Mid Net’ ride which sits in a single tree wide strip between our main trapping areas.
Amongst the Goldcrests was a new species for the site in the form of a Treecreeper. Although the habitat isn't particularly suitable for them, it is a species I have been waiting to see in the estuary over the past 4/5 years but at least I do know they appear!  

Portstewart Strand/Grangemore  24-26/09/2017                          

                                       New       Retrap   
Blackbird                        1
Blackcap                         9               2
Blue Tit                           1               1                
Bullfinch                         3            
Chaffinch                        1                                          
Dunnock                         11             1
Goldcrest                        15             1
Goldfinch                         3
Great Tit                                           2                       
Lesser Redpoll                1                                  
Linnet                               2              2        
Meadow Pipit                  9
Robin                               7               3
Song Thrush                   1
Stonechat                        7
Treecreeper                    1
Wren                                3               1              
Totals                                    75                13                         

Blackbirds are still thin on the ground and it looks to have been a poor breeding year but the vanguard of migrant thrushes are hitting the northern Scottish isles as we speak, so the first flush will be here within the next week or two!
With a bigger team assembled we may start to target the finches and pipits in the coming weeks but the focus will be on the scrub in the chances of turning up something rare - watch this space!
With the strong winds on Saturday I ditched the nets and headed to Ballintoy Harbour to target Rock Pipits and Wheatears with spring traps. The Harbour is ga eological paradise with a couple of bays full of cliffs, boulders and islands of basalt and chalk in some exotic shapes such as Elephant Rock.
Rock Pipit
I've only ringed at the site once before but that is usually because it is really busy with hoards of tourists, particularly since Game of Thrones filmed at the site which now means we have bus loads of tourists dressed in costume with weapons & banners descending on the site daily. I thought today might have been different but unfortunately the Ultimate Causeway Coast Marathon was on but I was away before the main run of competitors passed by. 
There are two spots in the area where the kelp piles up the shore and that is where you find the majority of the birds. I opted for the one closest to the car park today and there probably around 50 Rock Pipits, 2 Pied Wagtails, 1 Meadow Pipit, 20 Starlings, 28+ Twite and a few rats feeding along the shore plus a very late Swift overhead. 
I managed a catch of 16 Rock Pipits but none of the other species showed any interest in the meal worms. 


My patch birding in the Bann Estuary has stepped a gear now that we are in September and I have matched my 2015 total of 117 species and only six shy of 2017 with one/two guaranteed species to come. The additions since the last post are Little Stint and Ruff.

Little Stint

My trip to Copeland Bird Observatory this weekend looks in doubt with the boat home off the island on Sunday looking unlikely but the forecast is improving so fingers crossed. It is a brilliant time of the year to be at a coastal observatory so I'm very keen to get out as it looks to be my only chance this autumn. The first run of Yellow-browed Warblers hit the Irish Sea Observatories yesterday with 10 on Bardsey, 1 at Hilbre, 1 at Walney and 1 on the Calf of Man, so hoping for one at CBO soon!  Firecrests were also on the move with up to 7 birds across a couple of the listed Observatories.  

Colour ringed Oystercatcher from south-west Iceland

Wednesday 20 September 2017

End of summer update

Yet again I have been slacking with the blog updates following a holiday in Hungary & Slovakia and I'm currently in the process of moving in to my new house. I'll hopefully get sorted in the next week or two and be back in action.
I received some great news from the BTO midweek to say that my application was successful and I have now been granted my A permit and I am also now registered as a ringing trainer!

So...... we have been semi-busy in the past 6 weeks with some more Storm Petrel ringing, general passerines, a trip to Copeland Bird Observatory, waders and we have been back down to Lough Neagh.

Lough Neagh, Take Two

Back on the 13th of August, John, Steve and I met with Godfrey and returned to the west shore of Lough Neagh where we had the very productive catch of 102 birds on the 16th of July.  We had another brilliant session with a slightly lower catch of 93 new birds but it did consist of a greater diversity and a fantastic 17 Reed Warblers taking us to 30 for the year. As an extra to the two nets we used the last time, we placed a net across the channel that separates the island from the mainland which is much closer to the wet woodland and it produced the majority of the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.
You'd like to think one or two of these 150+ acros will produce a recovery on the way south or during a later migration.

Reed Warbler

Lough Neagh                            

Blackcap                        17                                           
Blue Tit                           2                                              
Chiffchaff                        2          
Reed Warbler                17

Sedge Warbler               38
Sparrowhawk                  1
Willow Warbler              8                                        
Wren                                1               

Totals                              93                  


We plan to return next year from mid to late summer and, with the right team, work the site to its full potential - 250-300 birds in a morning? A few trainees would be handy to carry the gear as the 1 mile walk through soaking reeds and swarms of flies is tough going :P

Mist-netting Waders

On August 25th John and I had a bash at mist-nesting some roosting waders with a decent forecast and a workable tide. With just the two of us on hand we stuck with just two 12m nets in a V over the main pool playing the 'Killer Redshank' tape. Ideally we could have had high tide two hours later and a bit of cloud cover but it wasn't bad.
There were plenty of birds about through the evening including 3 Greenshank, 2 Whimbrel and 100's of Curlew & Black-tailed Godwit and c30 Redshank. Early on there were 20 Teal in the pool but they were flushed by a Peregrine which I only noticed when 2 Teal landed right in front of me, which I thought was weird, when the Peregrine whizzed by and tried to nab them.

Black-tailed Godwit 

With the nets open we waited for darkness, catching one Redshank early on. The roosting birds began to move about around an hour after sundown and we ended the night with 16 birds of four species.


Grangemore Waders
Species                       Ringed

Black-tailed Godwit      2
Curlew                           2
Dunlin                            2
Redshank                      10

Total                              16

We had hoped to have a few more attempts through September, as well as some Swallow roost catches but as mentioned I've not had the time but there are still a few weeks left yet to make it happen! 

Storm Petrels

On the Storm Petrel front we made our last two attempts of the season (six in total), again with a few visitors, this time from Northumberland.  We added another 5 new Storm Petrels and one control, taking us to a year total of 44 new, 1 retrap and 3 controls, which is our lowest since we started studying the species. We have yet to submit the details of the last control as yet but hope to sort that over the next month.

Storm Petrel

We had a little more luck with Redshank adding another 7 birds.

 Next stop Tiree in a due north path

Portstewart Strand

We have had three visits to Portstewart Strand on the 20th & 27th August and the 17th September and the combined ringing totals are below. There have been a few odds and sods around the estuary and my species total as of 19th Sep is now up to 115 including a roosting Long-eared Owl, Curlew Sandpiper, Sooty Shearwater, Great Skua and finally my first Collared Dove after 4/5 years of waiting! I've also been missed plenty in the estuary in the past month with Osprey, Sabines Gull (which would both be NI ticks for me), Little StintArctic Skua and Ruff sighted by others. 

The Blue and Great Tits all appeared on the 17th September with 4 of the Chaffinches showing the changing of the guard. The final Willow Warbler of the year was caught on the 27th of August, one day earlier than the final bird of 2016. The Starling was caught in an evening catch.


 Portstewart Strand/Grangemore                            
                                       New       Retrap    

Blackcap                         11
Blue Tit                            3              1                 
Bullfinch                          2              1
Chaffinch                         5                                                       
Dunnock                          5              2

Goldcrest                         7              4
Goldfinch                        1
Great Tit                         5                        
Lesser Redpoll                2                                   
Linnet                              6          

Meadow Pipit                                  1  
Reed Bunting                  3
Robin                               5               1

Starling                           1                          
Willow Warbler             1                                        
Wren                               5             

Totals                              62              10                

We are approaching peak season at Portstewart Strand and John has 3 weeks of holidays coming up so we will be hoping for plenty more ringing in the coming weeks. We have also not had a suitable team where we can use all the nets so it will be nice to have some of the lesser-spotted trainees in tow.

Copeland Bird Observatory

On the 1st of September I headed over the Copeland Bird Observatory with a team of 11 others on a special trip to ring Manx Shearwater chicks during the peak emergence. I was planning on staying through to Sunday but the terrible forecast meant that we had to be taken off the island on Saturday afternoon.
In the down time waiting for darkness I had a shot at ringing some waders and was successful in catching one Redshank. Very little wader ringing has taken place at CBO in the last few decades and wader numbers are still very low on the island at this time of year but if I get another weekend visit this autumn I'll make a bigger effort. When the sun went down we headed out across the island in three teams of 4 and caught 173 new Manx Shewarwaters and dozens of retraps. I headed for bed at 1am so I could be up for 6am to open the mist nets to catch some migrant passerines. Some of the others lasted until around 4.30am.

Manx Shearwater youngster (DS)

I didn't actually record the number of birds caught in the nets in the morning but we did get 30+ birds made up mostly of Goldcrests, Robins and Swallows plus 4 Chiffchaff, Wren, a Blackcap and some of the resident retraps. We also found a late Woodpigeon nest with two chicks which were ringed.

There have been a few more birds processed with two mornings at the river site with a catch of 30+ birds made up mostly of Warblers, particularly Chiffchaff, of which we catch very few of.  I also had an attempt of catching the Jays in my parents garden but ended up catching the same Magpie three times and the rats have now eaten my big of peanuts yet again!