Tuesday 10 August 2021

Blanket Bog Ringing in the Sperrins

As a bit of a change of scene and birds, I've set up up a new site in an area of cut over blanket bog with succeeding willow scrub. I regularly record quite a few warblers on site plus the likes of Cuckoo, Whinchat, Red Grouse and Kestrel but it is very exposed high up in the Sperrin Mountains. I had been eyeing up the site in 2020 but by the time I got permissions organised, the opportunity had passed.

The first visit was on the 25th April with John Clarke in fine conditions. We were welcomed to the site with five very animated Cuckoos, with what appeared to be one pair and 3 single males all trying to outdo each other.

We set up two net sets specifically to catch the Cuckoos... and although we caught 2, they were caught in fine mesh nets deeper in the scrub set for the smaller passerines. We also caught a Grasshopper Warbler, 6 Willow Warblers, 4 Redpolls inc. British control (from South Yorkshire), a Reed Bunting and a surprise Jay given the habitat. The morning was almost topped off with a Red Grouse which stuck in the bottom shelf, but on approach it flipped out leaving a big hole in the North Ron superfine net. The first Whinchat of the year made an appearance also.

On the 1st May I returned to Portstewart Strand on the hunt for migrants.  The catch included the first Sedge Warbler & Blackcap of the year, another Grasshoper Warbler & Wheatear (Greenland), 4 Willow Warblers and 12 resident birds. 

The following day we tested out another bog for Cuckoo's but the resident male had other ideas & got out of the net 3 times! There was a small catch of 9 birds but it did include a Dutch ringed Lesser Redpoll.

Back in Action - early April 2021

The Covid-19 Pandemic halted play again at the turn of the year meaning that ringing outside of our properties was not possible, until the restrictions eased on the 4th of April.

Having not ringed any birds since the 12th of December, I was keen to get out on the first chance I got. The forecast on the 11th of April looked fine, so I headed for the dunes at Portstewart Strand to kick off the season. The weather wasn't playing ball and it decided to snow on route, leading to a stalled start. I waited a while and eventually opened two nets through the gorse scrub along the shore. In the cool, dull conditions it was quiet and just five birds were caught - a Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Blackbird and a retrap Blackbird and Wren. The ominous dark clouds started to build at 8am, so the nets were taken down promptly, just before a heavy and prolonged snow shower set in.

The following Saturday I was back down along the estuary shore on a dry morning but in slightly breezy conditions. Three nets were erected in sheltered spots with a catch of 10 birds including the first migrants of the year with 3 Willow Warblers. 

A Short-eared Owl being mobbed by the gulls (patch tick), a Grasshopper Warbler and 3 Tufted Duck were new for year patch list. I also undertook the annual spring clean along the shore after the winter floods.

On the 24th April, I returned to Portstewart Strand and was again struggling with breezy conditions.  The easterly winds delivered some migrants early doors with my first Whitethroat of the year, 2 Greenland Wheatears, 4 Willow Warblers, 2 LRedpolls + 9 other birds before packing up at 9am. I also sighted an Otter & my first GVW butterflies of year.