18 December 2014

Yellow legs and Black heads in Switzerland

We recently received a partial ring-read of a Black-headed Gull in Switzerland which did look to be a BTO-ringed bird, so definitely one worth chasing up! A few emails later and a week after first seeing the bird at Morges, Franck Lehmans was able to read the ring again and get the full number (EX70855); a bird ringed as an adult at Pitsea Landfill Site in October 2012.

This is only the second report of a British-ringed Black-headed Gull in Switzerland, following a bird ringed as a chick in Essex in 1999 and seen in December that year. The map below shows all movements of Black-headed Gulls to/from Britain & Ireland, from the Online Ringing Report.

Franck has a bit of a track record finding North Thames Gull Group birds: in April/May 2014 he reported a Yellow-legged Gull (Orange YY5T) originally ringed at Rainham Tip in February 2014. This bird also has an interesting history, being seen just five days after ringing in France, before moving on to Switzerland.

Wanderings of Orange YY5T
To top the story, in the same week that Franck was watching the Pitsea Black-headed Gull in Switzerland, the Yellow-legged Gull he'd seen in the spring was back at Pitsea, photographed by Richard Bonser (check out his excellent blog here)!

Orange YY5T at Pitsea Landfill on 29th November (c) Richard Bonser
Many thanks to North Thames Gull Group for sending on the details of these birds and for letting us use the map from their excellent website.

15 December 2014

Migration Mapping Tool

There has been a lot of discussion recently around the value of bird ringing. Ringing collects data on survival, productivity and abundance and this information helps scientists understand species declines, allowing them to prioritise conservation efforts. While the scientific benefits of ringing are relatively easy to see, the more practical applications of ringing are sometimes less obvious.

In November 2014, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8 was confirmed on a farm in Yorkshire. Guidance was updated on the BTO website and includes information about how to report any unusual mortality in wild bird populations.

Common Teal, one of the species analysed by the Migration Mapping Tool.
Photograph by Edmund Fellowes
During the previous outbreak in 2007, movement data collected over the last 100 years from birds ringed across Europe were collated by EURING to produce the Migration Mapping Tool. This maps migration routes in time and space for 21 species of water-bird. The tool was developed to assess the potential risk of AI being moved by wild birds; of course, other possible mechanisms of movement also have to be considered. It provides a summary of bird movements between different areas in Europe and at different times and demonstrates how useful data from bird ringing can be in a wider context. As well as being a valuable tool in the assessment of possible risk from the movement of AI, the Migration Mapping Tool is a fascinating resource for learning more about migration in general.

08 December 2014

2014 proves a good vintage for breeding birds

Throughout the year, ringers and nest recorders have been sending us their impressions of the breeding season. A post in June discussed how the weather in spring made for good nesting whilst one in July considered whether it was nearly time for nesters to hang up their mirrors for the year. On to September and we were reporting on the huge numbers of Blackcaps moving through the country and suggesting that this might be indicative of a good breeding season. Finally, in October, we pulled together stories suggesting that it might be one of the best years yet for Barn Owls. So, do these stories match what the results from the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) and the Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme tell us? The 2014 preliminary results have just been published and can be found on both the NRS and CES pages of the website.

Barn Owl (photo by Jill Pakenham)
We are very happy to report that the NRS and CES results show that 2014 was indeed a bumper breeding season for both Barn Owl (best ever) and Blackcap, as well as many other species, with the large number of young fledged and high levels of repeat nesting keeping volunteers busy throughout the summer. Reed Warbler, Blackbird and Bullfinch all exhibited the highest levels of productivity since CES began in 1983; interestingly, the two previous best years for Bullfinch were 2011 and 2013.

Less positive were the abundance results which showed that many of our migrants, particularly long-distance visitors, were notable by their absence this year. Only Chiffchaff broke the mould and exhibited a significant increase in abundance. News wasn't great for our resident birds either with only Robin and Wren managing to take advantage of the mild winter and exhibit a significant increase in numbers.

Chiffchaff abundance trend
Those who went to the annual BTO Conference at Swanwick this weekend would have seen the poster showing the regional CES results. While breeding success was generally high across Britain & Ireland, some species displayed regional variation - Sedge Warblers produced more young in the north than in the east or west for example. We would love to hear how your own experiences compared to the results presented so please feel free to leave a comment below. 

CES results poster showing national and regional results (click to enlarge)
We would like to thank all the ringers and nesters who contributed to the CES and NRS schemes this year and to those who provided blog stories in 2014. We hope you enjoyed the season and we look forward to reporting on your 2015 exploits.

28 November 2014

This week in ringing blogs...

It's been very quiet for exciting news here at The Nunnery (we're all waiting for the preliminary CES and NRS results next week!), so we thought this week we'd take a quick tour of some of the ringing group blogs out there. Links to many of the most popular blogs are listed in the right-hand column here, so why not browse and follow a few.

Bardsey Bird Observatory
This week Bardsey Bird Obs resurrected their buried portable walk-in trap and had some success catching Starlings. They can be tricky to age accurately so catching several together allows for a good comparison. There have been several long-distance movements of Starlings ringed on Bardsey including to Latvia, Belarus and Lithuania. However, it's not only movements of Starlings that are interesting. One individual that was ringed on Bardsey was found killed by a bird of prey in the same location nine years later!

Teifi Ringing Group
Also catching Starlings in Wales were Teifi Ringing Group, but more exciting news on their blog was just the sixth Firecrest caught at the site since 2009. This bird came with a further surprise in the form of a ring with a Belgian address on. This is the 11th record of a Belgian-ringed Firecrest in the UK, with other foreign-ringed Firecrest coming from The Netherlands (three), Channel Islands (two) and Germany (one).

Gower Ringing Group
One last Welsh blog focuses on a few wader captures at a new netting site, with a pre-dawn catch managing to produce both Snipe and Jack Snipe at the same time. It's not every day you get the chance to compare these species side-by-side in such detail, so the pics are well worth a look.

Snipe - Tommy Holden

Jack Snipe - Tommy Holden

West Cornwall Ringing Group
Staying in the west, further colour ring records from the West Cornwall Ringing Group included this young male Peregrine in France. Whilst there are several other movements to the near Continent, these unexpected sightings in your email inbox are certainly a treat.

Lower Derwent Valley
With wildfowl starting to come back to the valley in good numbers, the ringing group have just started to catch again (including this smart male Teal), but they've also taken the opportunity to look at a few of the more interesting group recoveries, including a Mallard that was later found in The Netherlands.

Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory
In the east, many sites were still benefiting from an earlier arrival of winter migrants, including small numbers of warblers. Scarce species such as Yellow-browed Warbler are getting scarcer now, but various sites were catching Chiffchaffs, some of the collybita race and others the eastern migrant tristis race (Siberian Chiffchaff), such as this one ringed at Gib Point on 22nd November.

Portland Bird Observatory
A rather more unexpected warbler catch was a Willow Warbler at Portland on 24th November, the latest ringing record at the site.

The BirdTrack results for Willow Warbler show how unusual this record is, with very few Willow Warblers seen beyond late October.

22 November 2014

Portuguese-ringed Lesser Scaup in Wales

Here Mark Waldron relates a quite exceptional resighting at Llangorse Lake in south Wales:

"On 17th October, scanning through a flock of 100 or so Tufted Duck that were feeding just off Llangasty car park, I came across a duck which had a bright orange or red nasal saddle. At first I was so concerned with reading the saddle that I hadn't taken much notice of what the duck actually was. It suddenly dawned on me that I was not watching a Tufted Duck but a Scaup. This made it even more exciting as I desperately struggled with the code. I digi-scoped a number of photo's hoping that I may be able to read the code from the photos later if needs be. The Scaup came much closer to the reed bed, perhaps only 2-3 meters away from its edge and with a brief break in the cloud giving better light I clearly saw the code read 'YH'.

However, the better light also clearly showed light grey vermiculations along its flanks. Alarm bells started ringing in my head; could this actually be a Lesser Scaup? It was similar in size to the surrounding Tufted Ducks and I checked the head carefully and there was the bump at the back. I now started taking photo's trying to get a decent profile shot. It continued to feed and occasionally preen so I made a film of the bird during which it gave a brief wing flap. I knew I needed the wing pattern and I hadn't managed to clearly see it. I now set my camera up on a repeat shot mode to try and capture the wing pattern. Another wing flap eventually came and I got some shots, but the wing bar looked too pale in the primary feathers. I had to leave the lake as I had to attend an open afternoon at my daughter's school, but all afternoon my mind was going over the ID features and I was still leaning toward Lesser Scaup.

A search of the colour-ring website did not turn up any clues as to the source of the ringing project: this actually increased my hopes. Following further feedback the next day and comments from Andrew King, the county recorder, following his own observations of the bird I was convinced we had identified a Lesser Scaup. The real clincher came on Sunday when Andrew found a blog post that showed what looked like a first-winter Lesser Scaup that had been ringed in Portugal at São Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve (over 1500km from Llangorse Lake). More than that, the photo's appeared to actually show 'our bird'. Later that night, confirmation was received from David Rodrigues that our Lesser Scaup had been marked at São Jacinto as a juvenile male juvenile Lesser Scaup on 20th December 2013. It was also confirmed that the nasal saddle code actually read 'VH' and not 'YH' as previously reported. The bird then remained at São Jacinto until 3rd February 2014."

This is, unsurprisingly, our first recovery of a Lesser Scaup, and as far as we can tell the first ever European recovery. Such records of transatlantic vagrants aren't exceptional, and there is even a record of a bird 'going back': a Ring-necked Duck ringed in Gloucestershire in March 1977, shot in Greenland in May later that same year. Rather coincidentally, the only other Ring-necked Duck recovery involving the UK also involved Llangorse Lake, with a bird ringed in Canada in September 1967 shot there in December that year.

Thanks to Mark and David Rodrigues for the photos of this bird either end of its journey.