28 November 2017

The Barra Sparra

Ian Thompson, Yvonne Benting and Bill Neill write:

We have been colour ringing House Sparrows here in Askernish, South Uist as part of the BTO’s RAS scheme for the past seven years. Because House Sparrows have a reputation as being difficult to catch and retrap, the use of colour rings was a conscious decision on our part. This enabled us to identify the birds individually in the field, but more importantly, it allowed our neighbour to participate in the project by recording the birds that visited his garden.

Female House Sparrow. Photo by Ian Thompson

While the House Sparrow RAS season runs from April – August, we observe and record our birds all year round. Again, the use of colour rings has allowed us an insight into their movements around our islands and this has surprised us as to how far ranging they can be. We now receive regular updates from several observers around the islands, and the birds have been recorded as far north as Balranald, North Uist (46 km) and as far south as South Glendale, South Uist (11 km).

To date, all these movements have been within what is known as “the long islands”, which are all joined by causeways, and none have yet travelled over water. With two birders having recently moved to the Isle of Barra, we began hoping that one of our birds might turn up there.

Recently we had been seeing three unringed birds (two male, one female) amongst our regulars and favourable weather gave us the opportunity to try to trap them. Over a period of two weeks, we trapped and ringed 12 new birds (seven female, five male) and we still had four unringed birds (two male two female).

But, amongst the 12 was a bird we hadn't originally ringed (control)!

After a few enquiries, we found that the bird had been ringed by Mark Oksien earlier this year on 18 September at Garrygall, Barra (see map below). Not only has this bird moved 26 km, this is the first time we have recorded a House Sparrow crossing water to other islands. After such a long wait, this was not the way it was meant to happen. We expected that it would be one of our colour ringed birds turning up in Barra, not the other way round.


As Bruce Taylor, one of the Barra birders commented  “the way Calmac has operated of late, we can rule out ship assistance”.

This House Sparrow has since become known as the “Barra Sparra”.

Note:- None of the 12 Sparrows that were ringed have been seen since.

We had news yesterday (27 Nov 2017) of another sparrow making the reverse trip! A bird I ringed on 7 Nov 2017 (O54) turned up in Bruce Taylor’s garden yesterday (one of the birders on Barra) at Brevig, Barra. It would seem that we have quite a movement of sparrows here in this bout of hard weather.

House Sparrow O54. Photo by Bruce Taylor

Information and regular updates on our project and sightings of our birds can be found on the Outer Hebrides Birds website or by following this link.

13 November 2017

Meds, Reds and Rockits

The BTO ringing recoveries team are in daily contact with other ringing schemes all over Europe and occasionally even America or Africa. European ringing schemes are part of EURING, which is the coordinating organisation for European bird ringing schemes and strives to coordinate and maintain good quality data and research for the benefit of wild birds.

Part of the EURING protocol is for member schemes to use a standard set of codes when referring to birds that have been ringed or recovered. The data can then be more easily shared and understood by other ringing schemes. In the autumn, contact between the ringing schemes increases as migratory birds cross borders and seas; many foreign-ringed birds are found in Britain or Ireland as well as BTO-ringed birds being found abroad.

Looking at recent records (from October until the time of writing), there have been quite a few reports of foreign-ringed birds reaching our shores. Mediterranean Gulls from Poland are becoming a regular occurrence, with eight individuals reported since October. Other recently seen Mediterranean Gull were originally ringed in Belgium, France, Denmark and Hungary.

Ringed, colour ringed and unringed Mediterranean Gulls. Photo taken by Dawn Balmer

A sighting on 2 October of a Norwegian Little Stint on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides was really exciting, so too was a Peregrine from Finland which was seen in Norfolk.

The recovery rate for Redwing is very low, but recently there has been a scattering of interesting recoveries, as the birds start to arrive here en masse with the cold northerly air flow. A Redwing wearing a Finnish ring was caught at Wolverhampton Racecourse in early November. Another Redwing was found freshly dead after hitting a window at Charlestown of Arberlour, Moray on 24 October after being ringed 387 days previously at Akureyri, Nordur, Iceland. The most outstanding report was a Redwing which was caught at Rhostryfan, Gwynedd, Wales wearing a ring from the Czech Republic on 31 October. This bird was ringed on 10 November 2014 at Olomoucky Kraj 1,508 km away!

Redwing with a lot to eat. Photo taken by Tom Wallis

On 6 November, a non-ringer reported that a Greenfinch had hit their window at Hoddesdon, Hertford; unfortunately it didn't survive. This bird was wearing a ring that was put on in The Netherlands and if the species is confirmed, this would be the 10th record of a Greenfinch from there being reported here.

A juvenile Norwegian Rock Pipit was caught at Poole Harbour, Dorest on 3 November. It was ringed (and colour ringed) at Maletangen, More og Romsdal (1,464 km). This is one of seven Rock Pipits to be reported to us since October, all of which were colour ring sightings apart from this recapture and a bird hitting a window in Whitburn, Tyne and Wear. More information on the recoveries can be found on the Online ringing reports page.

The Norwegian Rock Pipit. Photo taken by Shaun Robson
As you can see from this round up, we are receiving lots of reports of birds ringed in more northerly countries, but we will soon also be getting records from our more southerly ringing scheme colleagues of 'our' birds that have been seen or caught whilst moving further south for winter.


26 October 2017

The colourful Little Egret

Little Egret is now a familiar sighting in southern Britain and Ireland, but there are also large increases in Scotland. This time of the year is a great time to see this water bird, as shown by the BirdTrack reporting rate graph below.

BirdTrack reporting rate

Being such an obvious bird, and coupled with their long legs, the Little Egret lends itself very well to being identified by colour rings. The majority of birds are ringed as chicks, providing information on brood size, hatching location and sibling ID for the Nest Record Scheme.

Despite how few foreign recoveries we have for Little Egret, they can move reasonable distances and do so on a regular basis. Colour rings increase the number of sightings of these birds and account for 94% of all of the finding reports that we have in the BTO ringing database for this species.

Colour of location: Ringed in Britain and Ireland, Found Here; Ringed Here, Found in Britain and Ireland

North Notts Ringing Group have been colour ringing Little Egret chicks at Besthorpe Gravel Pits, Nottinghamshire since 2013 and have had some very interesting movements so far. They have not had a single report of a dead bird yet. The map below shows some selected sightings. The ringing site (red pin) and the sighting locations (blue and purple pins) are highlighted.



After being ringed, one chick (blue C3) finished growing, learnt to fly and promptly zipped 122 km North to Filey, North Yorkshire (purple pin on map), in an incredible 85 days after ringing! You can see the dispersal of these birds are generally north but they can go in any direction, as we've posted previously. C3 was seen at Filey for over a week.

Little Egret. Photo taken by Ian Elsom

Preening Little Egret. Photo taken by Ian Elsom

If you do see a colour ringed bird feel free to check out European Colour-ring Birding for a list of colour ringing projects. The ringer will then get back to you with the details and submit the sighting to their ringing scheme.

Last year, Great White Egret was added to the list of birds ringed in Britain or Ireland, see the online reports. These birds were also colour ringed, so if you have any doubt about which species is which, check out the BTO Little Egret and Great White Egret ID video.

10 October 2017

The Big Biggleswade Starling RAS

Denise Cooper-Kiddle and Derek Gruar write:

The BTO Breeding Bird Survey survey has recorded a 49% decline in Starlings across the UK since 1995. Why numbers have dropped so dramatically is not fully known. Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) projects are helping find out whether adult mortality is a possible cause.

Adult Starling. Photo by John Harding

My back garden in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire gets more than its fair share of Starlings (4,446 ringed here since 2010). Three years ago, the BTO suggested I should start a RAS project. As well as a unique metal ring I also add a colour ring to every adult bird caught between 1 April and 31 August each year. Since then I’ve colour ringed 634 adults. My RAS uses red rings with a white letter/number code starting with a P or a K and are unique to each Starling throughout Europe.

Starling roost. Photo by Laura Kuselska

What makes the Biggleswade RAS exceptional is the volume of data it produces. In June 2015, two months after the start of my first RAS season, I was contacted by a retired couple living a few streets away. They had started seeing Starlings with red rings in their garden and a leaflet they picked up in a local shop (1,000 had been distributed around the area) told them about the project. Brian and Viv took on Starling spotting as almost a ‘day job’ and Brian, an ex data manager, decided to set up and manage a complete project database. Every red-ringed bird is added into the database and every day on which that bird is sighted is recorded. This shows that an ‘amateur’ ringer and some absolute hero volunteers can provide a lot of information about a declining species.

So far the database contains 7,382 confirmed day sightings (ring code seen clearly among the mass of Starlings rushing around feeding). Looking at when individual birds were sighted shows that some birds are only seen during the breeding season and some are seen all year round.

Click to enlarge

Staying around or not, can make a lot of difference regarding the number of days on which a bird is sighted. Take two of the ‘regulars’ that have been seen on over 150 days since they were colour ringed. PIF has been seen on 158 days since being colour ringed on 4 May 2015. PVC has been seen 163 times, but wasn’t colour ringed until 14 June 2016. The difference is that PIF disappears for months at a time outside the RAS season and PVC has been seen on at least two days in every month since being colour ringed.

I did consider colour ringing the juveniles I catch as well, but decided against it as so few return as breeding adults the following year: of the 271 adults I have red ringed in 2017 only 52 had been metal ringed here as juveniles in 2016 (about 5% of the total of 980 juveniles ringed here in 2016). A lot will not have survived their first winter, but hopefully quite a few will simply have dispersed and gone elsewhere. It does look as if some birds return at some point because three Starlings metal ringed here in 2011 or 2012, and never seen or retrapped since 2012, suddenly turned up this year to ‘collect’ their red rings.

Juvenile Starling. Photo by Christine Matthews

Where do Starlings ringed in Biggleswade go? A number of recoveries and controls of birds within a 40 km radius suggests they disperse over a reasonable area. Two recoveries have been very noteworthy - a juvenile ringed here in August 2014 was found dead in Capel-Sylen, Carmarthen in March 2015 and an adult ringed here in November 2016 was found dead just outside Bunschoten-Spakenburg in the Netherlands in August 2017. This was especially interesting for me as I lived in Bunschoten-Spakenburg for 11 years; just one of those quirks of fate when investigating these fascinating birds.



With the 2017 RAS season now finished and the data entered into the database, who knows what the results will show us in the next few years. If you do see a red colour ringed Starling starting with the letters P or K, feel free to contact me on Info@denisecooper-kiddle.com.

29 September 2017

Sligo's slippery slope to ringing

Mícheál Casey writes:

I started getting into ringing from reading the metal rings on gulls, particularly Common and Black-headed Gulls. Back in 2004, I read the ring of a handsome Common Gull, and was thrilled to hear back from Hugh Insley about where and when it was ringed. It was a chick (one of a brood of three) which was ringed on 26 May 1997 at Loch Tarff, near Fort Augustus, Highland, which was 400 km from where I saw it in Sligo Harbour, Ireland.

Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

I have seen this bird at least once every winter since 2004 and have just seen it back for its 20th year this weekend, looking quite fresh for its age.

Portfolio of this Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

I emailed Hugh when I decided to move on from ring-reading to training as a BTO ringer and I remember the reply well. He said it will add a lot to my birding, but it will also take away some of my enjoyment of birding, as my enjoyment of every bird or group of birds seen will be diluted by....."now how could I catch that?". He was partly right, but I have gained so much more than I have lost overall.

Common Gull. Photo by Mícheál Casey

This bird has a little way to go yet to break the longevity record of 27 years but hopefully it will keep returning to Sligo Harbour for a few more years to come; Mícheál will be waiting!

If you are able to read the ring of a gull while it's stealing your chips or just loafing around on the beach, please report it to www.ring.ac. You will be sent all the details on the bird and your record will help build a more complete picture of its movements.