27 February 2013

The Channel Rail

British and Irish ringers usually ring more House Martins in one year than the total number of Water Rail that have ever been ringed in Britain or Ireland since 1909. With a grand total of just 6,036 ringing records, the BTO database shows a recapture rate of only 430 different birds, and 137 reports of dead birds found.

Water Rail by John Harding

Having said that, we have had some exchange with our other Euring colleagues, particularly Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands and from as far away as Belarus. Recoveries of foreign ringed birds show an autumn immigration into Britain and Ireland from central and northwestern Europe, and then hint at movement further south into France.

In 2009, we received a report from a a member of the public in Truro, Cornwall, who had found a dead Water Rail that had been killed by his cat. It was wearing a French ring, making it the first French ringed Water Rail to be found on our shores (not shown on map).

We have just received the ringing details back from the French Ringing Scheme on another Water Rail that was found in Ivybridge, Devon, in November 2012. This bird was found fresh dead after hitting powerlines. This bird had only been ringed 49 days previously at Dune de Slack, Wimereux, Pas-de-Calais (390km).

22 February 2013

Wintering Rosefinch

Orfordness in Suffolk often seems to generate some interesting 'Demog Blog' stories, including Norwegian colour-ringed Little Stint, Finnish-ringed Turnstone, German-ringed Avocet, Polish-ringed Kingfisher and Norwegian-ringed Dunnock.

Their most recent claim to fame passed across my desk at the BTO (well in my remote office in Cornwall) recently, in the shape of a Common Rosefinch ringed on Orfordness on 20th October 2012 (photo below courtesy of David Crawshaw). This was the second record for the site and was caught in a short net at the same time as seven Lesser Redpoll and a Yellow-browed Warbler in what was a busy day at the site. Remarkably, it was then recaught in northern Belgium (207km from Orfordness) on the very unseasonable dates of 1st and 4th December! Winter records of Common Rosefinch in western Europe are few and far between, so why this bird chose to winter in Belgium is a mystery, but seemed to be doing OK, weighing more than it did when first ringed.

This is only the second BTO-ringed Common Rosefinch to be found abroad. The first was a bird ringed at Fair Isle Bird Observatory recaught two weeks later on the Faeroes, and to be honest most of the records of foreign-ringed birds have been in the Northern Isles. In fact, 1990 was a bit of a purple (or scarlet) patch at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory (Orkney), with a German-ringed bird recaught there in June 1990 and a Norwegian-ringed bird recaught there in September 1990, just eight days after ringing! The only other was a Swedish colour-ringed bird seen on Fair Isle in September 2011, just nine days after ringing.

Interestingly, within the UK, there are just two movements: a bird from Fair Isle to Spurn Bird Observatory (17 days) and from Isle of May Bird Observatory to Orkney (eight days). Bit of a Bird Obs theme developing as well...

19 February 2013

Hawfinch Season

With only a few weeks before the new “Hawfinch season” starts, Jerry Lewis has just heard about an interesting sighting of one of his birds. This picture shows one of 22 birds feeding on churchyard yews near Yeovil, Somerset, and was photographed by Barrie Widden on 4 February 2013.  

Hawfinch wearing colour ring 13 - Barrie Widden

It was ringed as a first year male, near Monmouth, Gwent, on 22 March 2012 - one of four birds caught that day. So far, Jerry, and others, ringing in the Forest of Dean/Wye Valley have had over 300 recaptures or sightings of their birds, but this is the first movement away from the study area – a distance of about 100km, due south.  There has only been one UK movement that is greater, also involving Somerset – a bird ringed in October 1977 was subsequently found dead at a Nottingham breeding area.  It will be interesting to know when the birds leave this, apparently regular, wintering site, and if “13” will turn up again at one of the study feeding sites.

Thanks for Jerry Lewis for letting us know.

15 February 2013

Swift Swallows

Quick movements of autumn migrants are hardly new news, but sometimes the sheer coincidence of captures is still quite amazing.

On 4th September, the hirundine roost catch at Pett Level (Sussex) totalled 53 Sand Martins and 348 Swallows, including five ringed birds. Two of these (ring numbers Y086711 and Y086745) were birds ringed just two days previously at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory (Lincolnshire), 246km to the north.

On 5th September, the Pett Level roost catch totalled 75 Sand Martin and 82 Swallows, again including five ringed birds. Quite remarkably, three of these were again birds ringed at Gibraltar Point; two (ring numbers Y086673 and Y086703) on the same date (2nd September) as the birds caught the previous evening! The other (ring number Y085692) was ringed on the earlier date of 9th August.

View Swallows in a larger map

This raises more questions than it answers and it's perhaps nice to think of birds sticking together in small groups on migration, and perhaps there's something in this. Just 285 Swallows were ringed at Gib Point on 2nd September, so for four to be found in two days in the same roost in Sussex could be more than just coincidence...

08 February 2013

A Stirling Recovery

Most of our recoveries that come from people, other than ringers, are mostly submitted to us via the Euring website. We do still receive a few phone calls however, and every now and then the recovery they are reporting is quite unusual.

I recently had a call from a lady who found a little bird in her garden in Bridge of Allan, Stirling (blue pin (behind the red pin) on map). She wasn't sure what this bird was but thanks to the ring number it all became clear. It was a Bullfinch that had recently died near her garden shed.

Female Bullfinch by Ms McGibbon

Bullfinch don't generally move very far, apart from a few Northern Bullfinches that come into the country from Scandanavia during the winter. These are notably larger than our British Bullfinch.The amazing thing about this bird was that it was ringed in December 2011 on our nature reserve here at BTO HQ (purple pin). Remarkably the finding place is just over 1km from the BTO Scotland office in Stirling (red pin)! At a distance of 517km it is the furthest movement of a Bullfinch ever recorded within the UK or Ireland. There are two birds that have travelled further than this but these are Northern Bullfinches which went to and from Sweden!

View Bullfinch recovery in a larger map

Thanks to Ms McGibbon for letting us know and for providing the photo.