Monday 26 October 2020

Waders and Farmland Birds

With the wind whipping up overnight my plan to mist net some owls at my farmland bird winter ringing site yesterday morning (25th October) went out the window so I decided to take a spin around the turf lawns along Lough Foyle instead to try for some waders.

On arrival @ 05.45 there was very little about and the sky was starting to break in the east. I switched on the ‘Killer Redshank’ call and a few birds started to appear. I dazzled a couple of Dunlin and a Jack Snipe before a Little Stint dropped in. It gave me the run around for five minutes and it was getting very bright but I tried standing still beside the tape and it walked right up to me! 

Little Stint

This was the first Little Stint ringed in Northern Ireland since at least 1977, possibly the second ever following one at Copeland Bird Observatory in 1963. Jack Snipe are also irregularly ringed with this one being just the 26th ringed since 1977 in Northern Ireland. 

Jack Snipe

The previous visit with mist nets & dazzling on the 21st September produced 25 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover & 1 Redshank. 

Ringed Plover

After the waders I nipped over to our Myroe farmland bird site to open up the net rides for the winter. There were lots of thrushes buzzing through the hedgerows which were loaded with berries but it was too windy for nets along there. The lure of the site are the heaps of dumped seed from local farmers which attracts a nice range of species later in the winter & a disgusting number of ๐Ÿ€ rats๐Ÿ€ but I’m hoping these might attract birds of prey.

With good numbers around I got a little distracted and put up 2 sheltered nets, once the rides were cleared and caught 49 new & 1 retrap.

Blackbird -  1

Blue Tit - 7

Chaffinch -  4

Dunnock -  1

Great Tit -  2 (1)

Grey Wagtail -  1

Lesser Redpoll - 2

Linnet  - 1

Pied Wagtail - 1

Robin - 4

Tree Sparrow - 24

Wren - 1

Tree Sparrow

The two wagtail species were a bit of a surprise but there is a sheugh just beside one of the nets and may add another dimension to ringing at the site. The 24 Tree Sparrows was our largest catch yet and I would estimate there were around 100 present. One of three Buzzards present managed to fly through a net and leave a big hole.

I then received a text from Theo Campbell to say that a Cattle Egret was back on my home turf of the Bann Estuary, so a rapid take down was executed & I was watching the bird within 30 mins. This was the 233rd bird species ever recorded in the Bann Estuary & a lifer for me.

All in all a very productive morning and a promising start to the winter ringing.

I will back track with some updates from the years ringing... but it may take a while!

Friday 23 October 2020

Late December at Castlerock 2019

I've just noticed I didn't post this one - here it 10 months later

With a dodgy forecast mid-morning on the 7th and nobody else keen to head out, I opted to go for a shorter early morning session to try and catch some more Snipe and the Jack Snipe that keep have eluded me thus far. I set up a six net 'V' in the corner of the marsh before first light and waited for the Snipe to return from their nocturnal foraging in the fields. While I was there I stuck up a wader net along the shore hoping that some of the Sanderling might bundle in under darkness.  


The wader net was a waste of time with a big falling tide, the net was soon well away from the waters edge and didn't come close to catching anything. I did come close to catching a few Snipe on the shore with my torch but without a landing net, it was tough - one bird I had managed to get down on one knee beside it but it flew off when my hand was within 30cm.


The catch of Snipe was poor with just a single bird and a Reed Bunting. When walking through the marsh it was clear that there certainly weren't any great numbers around with just 6/7. I've counted up to 69 Common Snipe and 5 Jack Snipe in this marsh so hopefully numbers will climb as the winter goes on.


The weather held up and was actually quite nice all morning so I left the nets a little longer to see if anything else was around. On approach to the net I noticed a dart of blue and a bird of prey in pursuit on the inside of the 'V'. The Kingfisher veered left and was caught while the female Sparrowhawk continued to where she bounced out of one net and into the other at the tip of the 'V'. I was able to run and catch her before she slipped out of this one too. Not your regular duo to be caught in a net!

The Snipe marsh

The feeding station amongst the scrub at Castlerock has really been bringing in the birds with counts of over 100 birds present on different occasions with flocks of up to 55+ Greenfinch, dozens of Goldfinches, dozens of Linnets and a few other visitors. Chaffinch numbers still remain very low with just two or three individuals and the Fieldfare are still absent with just two present on the last visit.

The feeding station

On the 15th with yet another dodgy forecast, I waited until the rain finished around 8am before I headed over to the site. The weather was then very sunny and bright but still chilly. The catch was very slow with only a handful of birds in the 3 nets over the first couple of hours. The bright sun then moved around the horizon and the nets were finally shaded and birds began to enter the nets around the feeders. I was short on time so had to pack up but the birds were very active and a big catch was on the cards if I had kept the nets open. In the end I caught 29 new birds and 2 retraps, including 22 Greenfinch.

Castlerock Golf Club -  7th December - 15th December 2019

                         New      Retrap
Blackbird           1
Blue Tit             
Bullfinch            2        
Chaffinch          1
Goldfinch          3             1
Greenfinch       22
Kingfisher         1
Reed Bunting    1
Snipe                 1     
Song Thrush      
Sparrowhawk    1
Wren                                1


The Greenfinch numbers are very pleasing and the catch of 22 on the 15th marks our largest ever single day catch. By the looks of it on social media, the Greenfinch has had a bumper year across the UK after decades of decline - fingers crossed.


Friday 2 October 2020

Lough Neagh Ringing Recoveries/Controls

We've taken the step to shift to Google MyMaps which allows the production of interactive control maps where you can zoom in/out and click on each of the controls/recoveries for details.

Follow the link below to check out map number one which includes the acro warbler controls from our Lough Neagh Ringing site.

The controls tab will be updated in the coming months.... and perhaps some actual blog posts! 

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Sandwich Tern Colour Ringing Donegal 2020

In June 2019 we began our Sandwich Tern colour ringing project with the first cohort of 30 ringed. In the first autumn (2019) we got six recoveries of five birds:
Three travelled the Ayrshire coast of Scotland (one bird was recorded at two sites)
One travelled to Rhos Point, Conwy, Wales
One travelled to County Wexford

As Sandwich Terns do not reach sexual maturity until 3-4 years old, we don't expect to see the first returning birds back until 2022 but it will be interesting if any non-breeding birds return sooner.

Sandwich Tern 569 ringed on 15th June 2020

The plan for this year (2020) was to really focus on colour ringing only and not place any focus on metal ringing birds. To avoid excess disturbance on the islet which supports a few thousand breeding birds (Sandwich Tern, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard) we are limited to an hours visit to land and depart. Unfortunately, as everywhere, the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered plans with tight lockdown restrictions meaning travel to Donegal and bird ringing was not permissible until June. The visit took place on June 15th but with social distancing measures in place, only two people were present, myself and Martin the NPWS Ranger. With very low water levels in the lagoon we had a new mode of transport with two paddleboards which worked really well. 39 well developed chicks were ringed 531-570 which now means we have 69 Sandwich Terns bearing colour rings.

We are very keen for your sightings so if you see any of our birds, please send the sightings to Richard.Donaghey89(at)


All the colour ringed Sandwich Terns are marked at the Inch Island Wildfowl Reserve on a small islet in the centre of the man-made lagoon. The site is owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service who enable access to the islet and we are thankful for their purchase of the BTO metal rings and colour rings.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

2019 Bann Estuary Bird and Ringing Report

The 2019 Bann Estuary Bird and Ringing Report is now available to read.

To check it out, follow the link below or click on the 2019 report link at the top of the side bar (right).!ApJre-YC-2Pry2q2eGHecsxmrH6T