27 May 2016

Elderly Shag strengthens our position in Europe!

Jim Lennon from the Shiants Auk Ringing Group writes:

Ringing seabirds can be mucky and challenging work, especially when you’re ducking under a rock to reach a Shag chick, while keeping an eye out for its protective parents (often the croaking male). However, this is soon forgotten when you receive news of one of them nearly 31 years later!

Shag chick 1227282 was one of a brood of three ringed on the Shiants Isles, Western Isles, on 30 June 1985 by Ms Sam Powell, a trainee ringer from South Wales working with the Shiants Auk Ringing Group. A total of 725 pulli from 377 broods was ringed on the Shiants that year.  Most of the subsequent recoveries were of birds that perished within the first 12 months, a few survived for four or five years and an exceptional bird was found dead after nine years.

But 1227282 outlived them all by a country mile.  For the next 30 years following ringing, it most likely spent its life breeding on the Shiants and in the waters of West Scotland, but we’ll never know for sure as it was never heard of again until John Taynton, a RSPB worker on the Shiants, found it freshly dead on 26 April 2016 i.e. a life span of 30 years 302 days.


According to the BTO’s latest longevity list (2014), this makes the Shiants bird the oldest ringed Shag in Britain & Ireland, and also in Europe (see Euring), raising the record by nearly a year.

The Euring information is not updated as regularly as the BTOs longevity lists because it needs to access all the data from all the Euring ringing schemes and this can take some time.  It currently indicates that a 34 yr old bird from the Shiants is Europe's oldest  Puffin but two just shy of 36 years old and one almost 37 years old, are listed on the BTO longevity records site.

16 May 2016

RAS: Renewing Acquaintances in Spring

For almost 20 years, the Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) scheme has used standardised bird ringing as a tool to monitor adult survival rates of species not frequently caught at Constant Effort Sites. The results are used to generate annual survival estimates which help us to understand more about the contribution changes in the probability of mortality make to population trends recorded by surveys such as the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). Birds are generally faithful to breeding sites between years, so RAS methodology aims to re-encounter as high a proportion of returning adults as possible each year; for some species, this task can be made significantly easier by fitting colour-marks, allowing birds to be individually identified without capture. 

The initial uptake for RAS was fantastic, with 75 datasets received in 1998. Since then, the number of projects has risen steadily and in 2015, a tremendous 190 datasets were received. We now have over 200 active projects studying 59 different species. 60% of projects focus on one of the 24 target species, as outlined in the Demographic Targeting Strategy, with a further 11% of projects targeting seabirds (which don’t yet feature in the target species list).

The most frequently studied species are still House Sparrow and Pied Flycatcher, which are the focus of 23 projects each. In third place is Sand Martin, which is studied by 15 RAS ringers, often at artificial banks such as the one at Rutland Water which enable breeding success to be monitored concurrently. Following closely behind is Starling (14 projects), a species that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Prior to 2013, there were only two RAS projects on this red-listed species so the additional data now being produced are very welcome! Not quite making double figures are Dipper and Reed Warbler, which are the species of choice for nine RAS ringers each. Perhaps surprisingly, there are still fewer RAS projects than we might expect on some generally well-ringed species, such as Swallow and Tree Sparrow (six projects each) – we would love to hear from anyone interested in taking up the challenge of a RAS on these species.

This colour-ringed Starling is part of a RAS population in Lancashire. Photo by Peter Alker.

The fruits of RAS ringers’ labours have just been published. The full suite of national RAS results for 2015 is now available and includes a trend for Tawny Owl, which we have been able to produce for the first time following the submission of some valuable historical data. RAS works particularly well for longer-lived species, such as owls and seabirds. A number of ringers with existing, long-term ringing projects have recently registered for RAS, instantly enabling us to produce survival trends for their studies.

A trend for Tawny Owl is available for the first time. Photo by Ruth Walker.
RAS survival trends for 12 species (Little Owl, Jackdaw, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Dipper, Pied Flycatcher, Stonechat, Wheatear, House Sparrow, Linnet and Siskin) are also included in the annually produced BirdTrends report, which provides a range of information about population trends and their potential drivers for over 100 breeding bird species.

We are very grateful to all our fabulous RAS ringers who put so much time and effort into generating this incredibly valuable data. Anybody considering starting a RAS or wondering whether a current project could be suitable for RAS is encouraged to contact the RAS organiser.

12 April 2016

Do Blue Tits move very far?... Generally no.

Ian and Sally Hunter from the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory write:

Small groups of Blue or Great Tits, with the occasional Coal Tit, moving southwards along the seafront are not uncommon during visible migration observation at Sandwich Bay.

Despite 10,381 Blue Tits having being ringed by the observatory, we have not really discovered much about their movements. Until 23rd March 2016 the observatory only had one foreign control (ringed abroad), from the Netherlands, and one foreign recovery (found abroad), to the Pas de Calais region of France. Other movements were usually within Kent (19 birds), mostly to/from coastal sites, with six to/from other southern counties. The BTO ringing scheme as a whole has only had an extremely small number crossing the channel.

Blue Tit recoveries involving Britain & Ireland
Colour of location: Ringed in Britain & Ireland, Found Here; Ringed Here, Found in Britain & Ireland
So when a Blue Tit wearing a Lithuanian ring was captured, there was plenty of excitement. The bird was noticeably brighter blue than local birds. Its wing was a big 70 mm and it weighed 11 grams (average for British Blue Tit is 63mm wing and 10 grams). Interestingly the previous day a white headed northern race Long-tailed Tit had been observed and two days later a continental Coal Tit was ringed.

Lithuanian Blue Tit. Photo by Becky Johnson
The map below shows just how far this bird has travelled from Ventes Ragas, Silute distr. It was ringed as an adult Blue Tit at 13:00 on 15 Sept 2015 (nearly 1,400 km in about 6 months).

08 April 2016

First British-ringed Stonechat for Norway - rubicolus?

John Secker from Thetford Forest Ringing Group writes:

Since 2003, Stonechat breeding in the Forestry Commission’s Thetford forest on the Norfolk/Suffolk border have been surveyed. The population has been as high as 56 pairs (2008, after a run of mild winters), and down to just four pairs (2014 after a run of relatively cold winters). In 2006 a project to find nests, and colour-ring both chicks and adults was begun by Thetford Forest Ringing Group.  In total, 750 birds have since been fitted with combinations of three colour rings and a metal BTO ring; 673 have been nestlings, 37 adults and 20 fledglings.

There have been many re-sightings within the forest area and Breckland generally, but also eight from further afield, mostly within East Anglia. The furthest travelled bird being seen near Chingford, East London. But certainly, nothing prepared us for what was to come.

Stonechat - photo taken by Odd Kindburg in Norway

On 27 March 2016 two birders (Odd Kindberg and Fredrik Tjessem) photographed, and reported to the BTO, a colour-ringed female Stonechat, near Tangvall, Sogne, in Southern Norway. The bird had a pink ring above a pale blue on the left leg and metal above pale blue on the right. The combination certainly matched one used in Thetford Forest but all the same, although we could not find any other studies that might have used this combination, we had to wonder whether or not someone closer to Norway may have colour ringing this bird. But from what we could make out from the photos, the metal ring did look tantalisingly like a BTO ring. We got back in touch with the photographers and in no time at all Odd was back on the case and we soon received a new batch of excellent photographs that enabled the entire ring number to be pieced together and therefore rule out any confusion with other studies – BINGO!.

Records showed that this bird was from a nest found by Gavin Chambers in May 2015 near Grimes Graves in Thetford Forest, Norfolk. The chicks were ringed by Ron Hoblyn and me, and the nest fledged successfully. Tangvall is approximately 750 kms North-east of Grimes Graves.
None of the other birds recorded away from Breckland has moved in a north-east or easterly direction.

This is the first ever British-ringed Stonechat to have been reported from Norway. Stonechat was not found breeding in Norway until the 1970’s, when a population of the British race, Saxicola rubicola hibernans established itself. It was speculated that those birds were of Scottish origin, Scotland being the closest part of Britain to southern Norway. But maybe this new record suggests an alternative.

Stonechat showing the three coloured rings - photo by Odd Kindburg

It is possible that the bird became caught up in one of the powerful south-westerly storms that have swept Britain this winter, but perhaps more likely that it made the shorter crossing to the Netherlands and then moved north into Norway. Either way it is a fantastic record and demonstrates the possible rewards to be had from colour-ringing birds.

It will be interesting to find out whether or not this individual stays to breed in Norway.

23 March 2016

East-West Kingfisher Connection

Here in Thetford we are spoilt by sightings of Kingfishers on our daily strolls into the town centre. As we have blogged before, our breeding birds are residents but the birds that we spot in winter may throw a few surprises.

Such was the case of the sixth recovery of a Kingfisher ringed in Germany that has been reported to us. Whilst it may not be the first or the second from Germany, looking at it in more detail we realised that this was a truly remarkable record. The details were brought to our attention by Dr Martin Flade from DDA who ringed the bird on the 23 July 2015 at Lake Brodowin (Brodowinsee) in the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve in Brandenburg, Northeast Germany, only 12 km from the Polish border.

As can be appreciated from the aerial photographs, kindly supplied by Reiner Krause, the area has a very low human population and encompasses about 240 lakes where Kingfishers typically nest on fallen trees.

German adult male Kingfishers are mostly sedentary, but juveniles and females move. Juveniles leave their nesting area a few days after fledging. One German-born juvenile Kingfisher was recovered on Malta only 22 days after it was ringed as a nestling. Another German bird was recovered as far south as Algeria.

The bird that prompted us to write this post was a juvenile female that was found in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, after having hit a window, and it is remarkable for being the furthest east-west movement recorded by any kingfisher ringed in Germany, as shown in the map below.

Landelin (Martin's son) and Yuma ringing Kingfishers in Lake Brodowin
This is an impressive 1,005 km east-west journey that intrigued us and made us look at the Online Ringing & Nest Recording Report to find out how this movement rates against other east-west Kingfisher movements. As shown in the recoveries map below, there is a yellow dot in Poland of a bird that was ringed on the 06/07/2011 in Rz Drawa, Bogdanka, Drawno, Poland and controlled by ringers on the 25/11/2011 in Orfordness; this bird was also a female. Despite coming from further east, the bird ringed in Poland 'only travelled' 972 km in 81 days, so we can say that the bird ringed by Dr Martin Flade is number one on our east-west Kingfisher connection.

The eastern most yellow dot is the bird ringed in Poland and this post's bird is not showing on this map yet.

Many thanks to Dr Martin Flade for highlighting the relevance of this recovery and for supplying the photographs and very interesting information about German ringed Kingfishers. Martin organised the German BBS from 1989 to 2010. He was also a member of the EBCC (European Bird Census Council).