05 February 2016

Something for Saturday? Second ever ringed Green-winged Teal sighted in Suffolk!

With the wildfowl shooting season either finished or nearly finished (depending on location), our recovery rate of ducks and geese is about to reduce substantially. Birders and ringers, however, will continue to provide much needed data on distribution, longevity and movements.

Green-winged Teal, a scarce visitor to Britain & Ireland from North America, is a good bird to record on your BirdTrack list when out birding. Some individuals will have escaped from captivity, which complicates the situation some what, but that deserves a whole post in itself.

BirdGuides are currently reporting a very interesting Green-winged Teal at Blythburgh, Suffolk which, importantly for the BTO Recoveries Team, is wearing a nasal saddle, and thus has a known history!

Green-winged Teal taken by Barry Yates

The nasal saddle works by only covering the top of the upper mandible, thereby not interfering with feeding or other behaviour. Even though we don't use nasal saddles as part of the BTO Ringing Scheme, this marking method is used to great effect in Portugal, as a previous report of a Lesser Scaup on the Demog Blog shows.

Green-winged Teal taken by Barry Yates

The origin of this bird is unknown. It may have escaped from a European collection or it may be a genuine vagrant. We do know however that it was ringed as a juvenile male at São Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve, Aveiro, Portugal (40º41’N 08º44’W) on 21/01/2015. Since then it has stayed in the area until at least 10/02/2015 when it was next reported and photographed in Suffolk on 01/02/2016 and is still being reported at time of writing.

There have only been two British or Irish ringed Green-winged Teal in the 107 years of our Ringing Scheme (in 2001 and 2003) and in that time we've only had one report of a foreign-ringed Green-winged Teal being found in Britain & Ireland, which was shot on the Isle of Scilly in 1971. Hopefully the Suffolk bird will continue to be reported to us and our Portuguese colleagues on its journey.

For more information on the work done by our Portuguese colleagues, check out their website, www.pt-ducks.com and if you see this bird feel free to report it to BirdGuides and to us via www.ring.ac (using the ring number J15195 and scheme of Lisbon).

26 January 2016

Avast! There be BTO buried treasure

From Viking hoards to Roman coins, metal detecting can be a very rewarding hobby. Many hours can be spent on the beach or in a field trying to uncover a hidden link to the past or some real life treasure. Why is the BTO interested in this, I hear you ask. Well we are increasingly getting reports of BTO treasure... bird rings!

Metal detector and spade. Taken by Martyn Franklin

The majority of these rings usually belong to birds that have been dead for 10 or 20 years, but our most recent metal detector report from Martyn Franklin was a touch older than that. He was searching near Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire when he came across 323412 in nearby farmland.

The mis-shapen ring of Martyn Franklin's find, that has been under the plough quite a few times.

After some searching, the ringing details of an adult Stock Dove were found in the deepest, darkest areas of our archive. Many thousands of ringing records are stored here, covering hundreds of species. This Stock Dove had been ringed 13 km away on 12 March 1943 and is the first Stock Dove to be reported by 'metal detector'. This joined other single reports of 14 species including Brent Goose, Bullfinch, Sandwich Tern, Goldeneye, Wren and Tree Sparrow.

The archive of many thousands of ringing details for birds that are long gone.

The BTO database shows that rings from 67 different species, ranging from Yellow Wagtail to Osprey, have been found over the years by metal detectors. The majority of reports cover urban and farmland birds, but coastal species like Shags and gulls also feature.

One very interesting use of metal detectors has been to find rings in the nests of birds of prey (licences may be needed). Lots of these have been in Peregrine nests or below roost sites and mainly cover thrush sized birds like Starling, Redwing, Dipper and even a Jay. Interesting nest studies in Norway have revealed rings in Eagle Owl nests and to date have found 19 BTO rings including from Oystercatcher, Teal, Common Gull, Tufted Duck, Blackbird and Guillemot.

If you have a metal detector why not get out there and find some bird rings. You never know, you might find one of the first rings ever used, from 1909! Don't forget to report it at www.ring.ac.

15 January 2016

A Western Palearctic first highlights another special bird

Expert gull watcher Killian Mullarney came up trumps on Sunday at one of his gull hot-spots at Duncannon, Wexford by managing to identify a Western Palearctic's first Vega Gull on 10th January. This is currently considered a subspecies of American Herring Gull by the BOURC and this mega-rarity is more at home breeding in northeast Asia or wintering in the Pacific.
Vega Gull is not the only interest in this photo. Photo by Irish Birding and the finder / photographer Killian Mullarney

The photos published on Irish Birding showed the Vega Gull (centre), but even more importantly to the BTO Ringing Scheme it shows that it is stood next to a colour-ringed Herring Gull: White 8CP6.

Since being ringed on Lihou Island, Guernsey in June 2011, 8CP6 has been seen a few times in Guernsey in the autumn and winter of 2011/12, then after 'going missing' it was seen on Hayle Estuary, Cornwall in January 2015. This is the first bird from the Guernsey project to be found in Ireland. In fact, there are only three reports of foreign-ringed Herring Gulls in Ireland, from Iceland, Netherlands and France.

With more and more birders and ringers enjoying the delights of gulls at rubbish dumps and roost sites, the movements of gulls between countries and local sites can be studied in more detail. One particular Mediterranean Gull for example has been reported in Ireland 80 times since being ringed in Poland in 2011.

08 January 2016

"My Precious" Cormorant

BirdTrack's own Nick Moran writes:

The BTO Nunnery Lakes reserve boasts an imaginatively nicknamed ‘Cormorant Tree’, a favoured perching site of…you guessed it…Cormorants. On 23 October 2015, I pointed my new-to-me bridge camera at a metal-ringed Cormorant I’d noticed in said tree. Reviewing the images, I was pleased to see that the first two digits were clearly visible as ‘25’ and the third looked likely to be ‘2’. Not having much experience of L rings, I showed the photos to Lee Barber. The shape and size of the ring and proportionally very large numbering meant he instantly recognised it as not being a BTO ring. Game on!

Numbers 252 confirmed. Taken 23/10/2015

I became Gollum for a week, consumed with an unrelenting obsession to ‘possess’ the One Ring.  And what more appropriate beast to be bearing it than a real life Nazgûl-bird?! Fortunately for me, the wearer of my preciousss was considerably tamer than the other Cormorants, allowing relatively close approach. However, the Cormorant Tree stands right on the bank of the Little Ouse, making it impossible to walk round and unlike the real Gollum, dark, cold and dirty water is not my thing. The only option was to approach from opposite sides of the river on successive visits, striving to see and photograph the ring from all angles.

Through the tree hole. Taken 26/10/2015

Looking fine for (252)39. Taken 27/10/2015

Final digit falls (25239)4. Taken 27/10/2015
By 27 October, after an awful lot of ‘here we go round the Cormorant Tree’, I’d managed to piece together 252394 and the address: Helgoland, Germany. After submitting the sighting to the BTO, the ringing details have just arrived. The bird was ringed as a chick in Wasservogelreservat Wallnau, Fehmarn, Germany on 11 June 2009. Surprisingly, it is only the eighth German-ringed Cormorant to be controlled in Britain & Ireland at the time of writing!

Confirmation of the Ringing Scheme. Taken 27/10/2015

Like all good stories, there was an unexpected twist: whilst clearing some photos from my old smartphone, I came across a ‘phonescoped’ shot I’d taken of a metal-ringed Cormorant on the same branch of the same tree…on 31 October 2014! The digits ‘25’ were once again clear to see, and close comparison of the bill and facial skin confirm it to be the same individual.

17 December 2015

The twelve recoveries for Christmas

Partridge in a Pear Tree
There is no mention of a Pear tree on the BTO BirdFacts pages for Grey Partridge however we do have 127 recoveries for this species. Most of these recoveries are of shot birds, as you would expect, but we do have several that have been radio tagged and the mortalities reported. One of the predators of these is quite surprising. Click here to open this recovery

Two Turtle Doves
We have even fewer recoveries for Turtle Dove (101) on the system, due to a severe decline in numbers since the late-1970s. As a result, they are still on the 'Red List' of 'Birds of Conservation Concern'. These reports are mainly of birds found dead, shot or found after being killed by a predator but it is pleasing to see that 73 of these reports are from ringers re-catching ringed birds; helping to further understand their decline and movements.

Recoveries Of Turtle Dove for Britain & Ireland
You'd have to have good eyes to get this recovery. Click here to open this recovery

Three French Hens
Even though our Ringing Scheme doesn't ring chickens, it does ring the majestic Hen Harrier. There has been some great work in recent years on wing tagging Hen Harriers, increasing the life histories of these birds from their breeding quarters to their wintering areas. One bird getting an amazing 87 sightings compressed into just two years.

For our selected recovery, it has to be a French one though. Click here to open this recovery.

Four Calling Birds
At this time of year the Tawny Owl is starting to think about the up and coming breeding season and on those frosty nights, can be heard calling to each other. One recovery that you haven't seen the report for was a Tawny Owl ring found in Iceland! This caused some confusion here in the Ringing Team, as we have never had a foreign recovery of Tawny Owl. After much investigation we found out that this ring was put on a Tawny Owl chick, which died in the nest. This ring was collected (to avoid subsequent reporting) and put on the ringer's binoculars. After a binocular strap broke on a birding trip to Iceland, this ring was later found and reported to our Ringing Scheme.

Our chosen recovery however is different and is an unusual way to go. Click here to open this recovery.

Tawny Owl. Photograph taken by Lee Barber

Five Gold Rings
One of the highlights for 2015 were the numbers of Goldcrest caught. We posted previously just how good the Goldrush was.

The chosen recovery has links with the three French Hens. Click here to open this recovery to understand how.

Six Geese a-Laying
How can we not look at goose nest records after a title like this!? For 2015, the BTO Nest Record Scheme has received 108 Canada Goose, 49 Greylag Goose and seven Egyptian Goose nest records. This has remained stable but very low over the years. If you have any records please let the Nest Record Scheme know.

An amazing recovery from the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust. Click here to open this recovery.

Seven Swans a-Swimming
One of our highest reported groups of birds are swans. Being large, white and living in populated places they are easily found and reported. Many land on roads thinking they are rivers and being less maneuverable they do crash into wires, walls and bridges.

One of our Thetford, Norfolk colour ringed Mute Swans this morning, showing just how easy it is to get colour ring sightings. Photograph taken by Lee Barber
The Bewick's Swan is famous for it's migration route but this recovery points out they do live a long time. Click here to open this recovery of 28 years!

Eight Maids a-Milking
We were not able to find any maids in the BTO ringing database but there are quite a few cows mentioned. Unfortunately, it seems like they are not too keen on swans which can get trampled. We have a very different recovery involving a Sparrowhawk for our chosen recovery. Click here to open this recovery.

Nine Ladies Dancing
The Great Crested Grebe is famous for it's pair bonding display, where it rises out of the water and dances on the surface. Few grebes are ringed and even fewer are found later, giving a grand total of eight records to choose from. How the finder got this recovery is unknown but it probably took hours. Click here for the recovery.

Great Crested Grebe. Photograph taken by Chris Knights

Ten Lords a-Leaping
This may be a tenuous link but in the movie, 'Lord of the Rings', Gandalf leaps off Saruman's tower onto a Great Eagle. This looks remarkably like a Golden Eagle and we have 35 recoveries of this species. Click here to open this recovery.

Eleven Pipers Piping
Not 11 records of a Purple Sandpiper, but just one. This is the number of records we have of dead Purple Sandpipers. By re-catching 'purps' our valued ringers have increased the information on this species by 928 records. These include the data from a colour-ringing project in Norway which has produced an amazing 51 sightings in Britain & Ireland. Click here to open this recovery.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The Snipe is famous for its drumming breeding display and we have received quite a few recoveries of this species over the years from 24 other countries. One of these was from one of our Constant Effort Sites (CES). Only one Snipe has been ringed at Cranwich CES to date and so far there is a 100% recovery rate for this species. Click here to open this recovery.

Measuring a Snipe. Photograph taken by Lee Barber
The Demography Team wishes you all a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year