15 April 2015

First BTO-ringed Mediterranean Gull recorded in Morocco

Sean Kingston, the British & Irish Mediterranean Gull colour ring coordinator, recently contacted us with the following story:

The breeding population of Mediterranean Gulls in the UK has gone from strength to strength in recent years with the number of breeding pairs breaching the 1,000 mark for the first time in 2010 (Holling et al 2012). 2014 was the first year that Mediterranean Gulls were recorded successfully breeding in Cambridgeshire. A pair fledged two chicks which were colour ringed by Tony Martin on 8th June 2014 as 2XL0 and 2XL1.

2XL1, the sibling of 2XL0, ringed in Cambridgeshire in 2014. Photo by Tony Martin

On Monday 30th March 2015, 2XL0 was re-sighted by Brian Small of Limosa Holidays among a flock of 15 Med Gulls at Oued Souss, about 40 minutes south of Agadir in Morocco. This is the first sighting of a BTO-ringed Mediterranean Gull in Morocco. 2XL0 had flown 1,600 miles, or 2,600 kilometres, from its birth site in Cambridgeshire to its wintering grounds in Morocco.

Photographic proof of 2XL0 in Morocco. Photo by Brian Small

Over two thirds of the Western European population of Mediterranean Gulls head south each autumn and winter primarily along the Atlantic Coast of Portugal between Lisbon and the Algarve. So while it is not unusual for Mediterranean Gulls to leave the UK in winter, it is unusual for a bird to fly as far south as Morocco, as this is close to the southern end of the wintering range for Western European Mediterranean Gulls. Renaud Flamant, international Mediterranean Gull colour ring programme coordinator, does receive occasional reports from traveling birders of European-ringed Mediterranean Gulls as far south as the Gambia and Mauritania.

Fledged Mediterranean Gulls have an annual survival rate of over 80% per annum so it is possible that 2XL0 may be around for at least the next ten years (the longevity record is held by a bird that was ringed as an adult in 1991 and caught again 15 years, 3 months and 7 days later - ed.). Hopefully 2XL0 will have sense and continue to winter in beautiful warm Morocco however this is by no means certain as many juvenile Mediterranean Gulls change their wintering location from year to year and really only become site faithful upon reaching adulthood at three years of age.

Many thanks to Tony Martin, Brian Small and Renaud Flamant.

Further reading
Holling, M., & the Rare Breeding Birds Panel. 2012. Rare breeding birds in the United Kingdom in 2010. British Birds 105: 351–430.

10 April 2015

Blackcap making touch down

This is an exciting time of year with our resident birds starting to nest and 'our' summer migrants winging their way back to Britain and Ireland. On the BTO reserve in Thetford in Norfolk, there are at least four singing male Blackcaps that have returned and more are surely on the way.

Male Blackcap - Mike Dawson

We recently received an email regarding a first year male Blackcap that had been ringed by West Wilts Ringing Group on 28 Sept 2010 (6am) near South Marston, Swindon (see blue point on map below). The finder mentioned it hit an airport window at Pamplona, Navarra, Spain (red point, 980km from ringing site), presumably on it's migration towards the UK. Interestingly this seemed to be the only British/Irish ringed bird found under that window, out of the whole 400 strong flock that was found dead!

We reported last year on the large exodus of Blackcap being caught in the autumn (click here), so it is good to hear that large numbers are now coming back towards the UK, however grim the outcome for these individual birds was.

30 March 2015

Leicestershire produces record Nuthatches

Ian Gamble writes:

"Birds have been ringed in my parent’s garden in Quorn, Leicestershire, for some 60 years and this has provided us with a wealth of information on our local birds. The garden, which is 80 feet long and 40 feet wide, borders onto a mixed woodland called Kay’s Plantation. In 1991 I married and left Quorn for Hertfordshire and now only return to Quorn to visit family, usually over New Year on my father's birthday (20th March). During these periods I get a few hours ringing in while they are still sleeping.

Ian's parents' garden in Quorn
Nuthatch is a localised resident in Quorn and regularly feeds in the garden and had nested on and off for nearly 50 years in a nest box that my father had put up at the bottom of the garden until it fell off few years ago. You would always know when the birds were starting to use the box because they would plaster mud around the entrance hole. These birds are sedentary and we catch the same individuals with some regularity over two or three years. The largest number caught in any one year was five in 1967, and we have ringed four birds in a year on four occasions, with 74 individuals ringed in the garden over the years.

Prior to this latest capture, the oldest individual retrapped was 4 years 6 months old. Over the last few years my father had kept saying to me he thought the male Nuthatch was quite old, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't catch it. Sunday 22nd March 2015 (whilst visiting my father on his 88th birthday) was a fine still morning and I decided to get in a few hours ringing in before church. One of the birds caught was a Nuthatch; an adult male with ring number TE27966. I immediately realised it was old, but not quite sure just how old!

Nuthatch in the garden (not the record-breaker, who was camera-shy)
On my return home to Hertfordshire I checked it out on IPMR and found that I had ringed it on 31st December 2005, making it well over nine years old! I had previously retrapped this bird on 24th March 2007, 21st March 2009 and 1st January 2010. As highlighted above, this is one case where understanding the movements of the ringer is more important than the movements of the bird..."

The previous longevity record for Nuthatch was a bird ringed in the nest May 1964 (also in Leicestershire!) and killed by a cat  in February 1973, making it 8 years 8 months old.

20 March 2015

How to get an awesome nest record of a Peregrine!

Ed Drewitt writes:

"Since the first web camera was used on a Peregrine nest in Brighton back in the late 1990s, our knowledge of what goes on in the lives of Peregrines has come on leaps and bounds. Even back then the grainy, low resolution pictures that updated every minute (if you were lucky) gave us insights in to the lives of these then rare birds. Over time improved technology, infrared light, high definition imaging and faster broadband connections now means we can watch peregrines 24-hours and all year round. As a result we can gather information about what makes peregrines tick that even committed Peregrines researchers fifty years ago could never have achieved by watching nesting rural peregrines (under a licence) from afar."

Chichester Peregrine chicks - Graham Roberts

"Web cameras allow us to hear baby peregrines cheeping to their parents days before they hatch and discover what prey is being brought directly to the nest. We can record accurate dates of when eggs are laid and when they hatch. And usefully, from a ringing perspective, it allows us to observe who is who at the nest site. Cameras help us read ring numbers of Peregrines and follow individuals. More recently interlopers have been observed visiting urban Peregrine nests, identified by their plumage, gender or colour rings."

Peregrine - Fellowes

"At some nests, young birds from the previous breeding season have been observed visiting their parents and nesting site, some staying throughout the nesting season helping to incubate eggs and feed chicks; a form of cooperative breeding. This behaviour is likely to increase as the urban peregrine population increases further - it pays for the younger birds, often males, to stay with their parents for an extra year to develop their life skills and avoid getting beaten up by other Peregrines if they wander further afield. Web cameras are also useful for: detecting new breeding birds that have appeared within a pair; extra-pair copulations whereby a male or female Peregrine sneaks off to mate with a different bird elsewhere and increase their gene pool; detecting inbreeding and much more."

Sussex webcam - Graham Roberts

Ed - There are several nests that can be viewed online and some have just started laying over the last couple of days. A selection of some active ones are below:

Norwich Cathedral Peregrine
Sheffield Peregrine
Brighton Peregrine
Nottingham Trent University Peregrine
Bath Peregrine

An interesting behaviour that David Morrison reported to us recently regarded a brood from last year that fledged and one of the chicks joined another nearby Peregrine nest and was accepted by the parents. This chick fledged with it's new siblings several months later.

For more information on urban Peregrines click here for a review of Ed Drewitt's book.

27 February 2015

Eat like a Gannet

Along with all of the useful data coming into the Demography Team from the Nest Record and Ringing schemes, we also get some interesting or unusual reports. Our latest recovery from Dr Kees Camphuysen, Senior Scientist and Marine Ornithologist at the Nederlands Instituut voor Zeeonderzoek, is one of these:

"I was demonstrating a post mortem for Ecomare animal care staff tonight on an unringed juvenile female Gannet. It was originally found fresh dead on a beach on Texel, The Netherlands, in 2013 but was frozen to keep it in a fresh state until the post mortem."

Juvenile Gannet during post mortem - Dr Kees Camphuysen

"It was severely emaciated but this was not unusual of young Gannets at this time of year but I could feel a very lean and stiff "fish" in the stomach. It was not a fish however. It was a wing...a bird wing, heavily digested and the primary shafts suggested the bird was reasonably large. To my utter surprise, in the muddy blackish, digested remains was....a ring!!!"

The ring was put on a Fulmar chick on 4 August 2013 on Swona, Orkney by the Orkney Ringing Group. Considering this bird was found on 18 October 2013, this chick didn't survive very long. Kees and his colleagues believe the chick may have been eaten by a large fish, possibly a Cod, which was then caught by fishermen, gutted and the offal (including the remains of the Fulmar!) eaten by the Gannet. We will never know for sure what happened but it is very interesting nevertheless.

The contents of the Gannet including blackened feathers and ring - Dr Kees Camphuysen