30 January 2014

What are the chances?

Lloyd Park from Rutland Water writes:

In June 2011 reserve manager Tim Appleton and I took a walk into the Burley Fishponds to look for signs that Little Egrets might be breeding in this area. We carefully surveyed the area, trying not to disturb any of the Cormorants or herons that also nest within the fishponds, whilst doing our best not to disappear up to our necks in the soft silt that has built up over the years!

After a while I came across a small number of Little Egrets close to some platforms of sticks in the Willow trees, and there sat a small chick on a nest! This was the first confirmed breeding of this species in the county of Rutland - an amazing moment!

Little Egret chick - Jan Pritchard

In anticipation I had brought my ringing kit along. I quickly ascended the tree to the nest and caught the chick, although it did try to give us the slip by beginning to climb away at a fairly fast pace. I then carried it down to the ground where we promptly fitted the bird with a standard British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) metal size ‘G’ ring. Once the ring was fitted I placed the chick back onto the nest and covered the bird over with a cloth to keep it calm. Once I was sure the bird was settled I removed the cloth and climbed down the tree.

Ever since that day I have always looked closely at the Little Egrets on the reserve to see if there was one with a ring of metal around its leg, but I never did see the bird again. Realistically, the chances of ever getting a recovery of the first and only ringed Little Egret at Rutland Water were pretty slim, however…

Little Egret - John Harding

We recently received a number of ringing recoveries and to my surprise a Little Egret was on the report. I assumed that this must be a colour-ringed bird that has been seen at Rutland from elsewhere but amazingly it turned out that the chick we ringed back in 2011 had been found, unfortunately dead, on the shoreline at O Grove, Pontevedra, SPAIN on the 20th November 2013. An amazing movement as I thought that most British Little Egrets were fairly sedentary.

A total of 891days after ringing, this Little Egret had covered a distance of at least 1285km. This is only the eleventh ever recovery of a British-ringed Little Egret abroad and the third found in Spain.

What an amazing story considering it was the only Little Egret chick we have ever ringed!

23 January 2014

Early Owl Action

Mike Price writes about some interesting news from the Peak District:

Further to Dave's post on the Demog Blog on early breeding, I thought it might be worth mentioning that whilst doing maintenance on our Kestrel and Tawny Owl boxes today (20/1/2014), we came across a Tawny Owl which was probably sitting on eggs. Luckily we hadn't made a lot of noise putting the ladder up and so managed to see her without causing her to be flushed from the box. We revisited in the evening and recorded a clutch of two.

A slow growing 39 day-old Tawny Owl chick in 2012- Mike Price

Checking 50 boxes each spring (in fact mostly plastic barrels) makes the start of the season seem to come around very quickly. We usually have an occupation level of about 40%. The last two years have seen this rate plummet, and 2013 saw just 10% of the boxes occupied with just one pair being successful in fledging two young. We recorded a few other successful pairs at lower elevation in natural sites. One nest hole contained seven Magpie wings and a pair of male Sparrowhawk wings.

We usually don't revisit the boxes after the maintenance until the beginning/middle of April, when we often find eggs or small young (Birdfacts suggests early March to early May for laying).

Tawny Owl submissions to the Nest Record Scheme show a peak in clutch initiation (laying of the first egg) during March and April

Another thing of interest this year has been the lack of Grey Squirrel dreys in the boxes. Of the 30 boxes visited so far, we have come across just one squirrel in a summer drey which is very unusual. I can recall one box last year containing 10 non-breeding squirrels.

Tawny Owl 'nest box'. You can see the damage that squirrels can do to the barrels in the above picture - Mike Price

Mike Price
Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group

17 January 2014

Nunnery nesting in 2014: off the mark!

We’re fast approaching the time of year where I grab my trusty nesting stick, Carl Barimore reaches for his mirror on a pole and Mike Toms straps on his endoscope as we head down to The Nunnery reserve to start looking for nests to monitor. We generally begin searching in late February, when the Long-tailed Tits begin to pair up and hang suspiciously around likely nesting sites (here typically gorse or bramble) and the first grebes, Mute Swan and Coot start gathering material. However, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities before that, and one was provided on the 15th January by our colleague, Neil Calbrade, who spotted a sitting Collared Dove in the Nunnery garden, the nest wedged between the branches of a  yew about 3m off the ground. This morning was the first chance I had to check it and the bird flew on my approach to reveal a single white egg; the ‘standard’ clutch size is two, but clutch sizes of early attempts made by multi-brooded species are often smaller (single-brooded species show the opposite pattern).

The typical view of a Collared Dove nest is the underside of a twiggy platform, several metres off the ground in a tree or shrub. It is almost always possible to see the adult sitting from the ground. Photo by  B Besley

It may be tempting to blame the unseasonably warm weather for this apparently early attempt, but Collared Dove is actually the only species in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS) dataset that has been recorded as breeding in every month of the year (Fig 1), although if as many recorders focused on Mallard, it may well reveal the same pattern.

Number of NRS Collared Dove records for which an accurate laying date can be calculated by month in which first egg was laid

That said, fewer than 30 January attempts are logged in the NRS database, dating back to the mid-1960s, and this is the fifth nesting Collared Dove nest we’ve been informed of in the past fortnight (the third in Thetford alone), which suggests they may have made an early start.  It is impossible to compare years without first collecting the data, however; analyses are orders of magnitude more powerful than anecdote when it comes to influencing Government policy on climate change, so it is vital your records are submitted to a national nest-recording scheme.

So, why not make 2014 the year that you register with the Nest Record Scheme and get involved in nest recording – it’s great fun, you’ll learn a huge amount about the birds around you and, vitally, it provides information to support conservation efforts that can’t be gathered any other way.
Information about any species, no matter how common, in any habitat, be it your garden or a remote island, are of value as long as you can see inside to count the eggs and chicks. Looking in nests is perfectly legal as long as you don’t handle the contents, although a licence is need to monitor nests of Schedule 1 species and be sure to follow the NRS Code of Conduct

We’ll be monitoring the progress of our Collared Dove and about 400 other nests across The Nunnery over the course of this season, from Wrens to Mute Swans; we’ll keep you posted on our progress and we look forward to hearing about yours.

Dave Leech, Head of the Nest Record Scheme

14 January 2014

Adios Caledonia

Roy Dennis' team have colour ringed more than 1500 young Ospreys since 1966 and in 2007 they started using GPS tracking devices to 'fill in' the gaps left by colour-ringing alone. These satellite devices enable live monitoring of individuals and have revealed entire migration routes, identified stop-over sites and disclosed previously unknown hazards for different species. At Loch Garten 12 Ospreys chicks have been fitted with satellite tags and their movements are followed by many online fans and reserve staff. The 12 birds have been named and their return to their birth place as breeding adults is much awaited.

Sadly, the fifth day of the new year brought bad news to Roy Dennis, Loch Garten and all the Osprey fans, as Caledonia, a female bird ringed and satellite-tagged in 2012, had been found dead in Spain. We now know that Juan Antonio Martínez Martín, a member of SEO/Birdlife, found Caledonia dead in the garden of a convent in Seville, where it had hit some cables and killed itself during thick morning fog.

All photos thanks to Jesús Fernández
 At Loch Garten, the return of Caledonia was expected with excitement as this should be only three months away. She seemed to be a 'very safe' Osprey, having spent several days in the Guadalquivir River area where she eventually died, and had travelled the same route that saw her sad end before. The Guadalquivir River basin in south west Spain is used as wintering grounds or stop-over by many species including Ospreys.

San Clemente convent, by the Guadalquivir River, where caledonia was found.

The RSPB Community is devastated with the loss of Caledonia, they have posted photographs of her and told their own personal memories here.

This little story highlights the hazards that large birds face, in particular the iconic Osprey. They tend to attract the love and attention of the public, even reserves and conservation measures are established across countries for their benefit. However, in their lifetime, they not only need to overcome the natural elements, they also have to overcome the barriers that we put for them, for their home ranges expand beyond the reserves.

In the UK and Ireland 189 Ospreys were ringed in 2012, and in that year we received 134 reports of BTO-ringed Ospreys found in other countries. To find out more about ringing totals in the UK and Ireland, visit the Online Ringing reports.

Finding locations of Ospreys ringed in the UK and Ireland (purple)
and ringing location of birds later found in the UK and Ireland (yellow).
Thank you to Juan Antonio Martínez Martín for finding and reporting the bird, to Jesús Pinilla and Arantza Leal from SEO/Birdlife for providing further finding details, to Roy Dennis for ringing the bird and to Jesús Fernández for the photos.

07 January 2014

Pink-foot pie anyone?

Eating out in London can be a rich and varied experience, but it's perhaps not everyday that when enjoying your meal you find a bird ring! Now there are many apocryphal tales of rings found in pies in the history of the ringing scheme, but we've always struggled to actually find these in the archives. So when we heard of a case recently we were more than interested.

This particular story has a long history though, with the afore-mentioned pie being eaten sometime in 1955 or 1956. The ring was then passed to a young schoolboy who was interested in birds and it lay as a curiosity in a drawer until being unearthed just recently. That young schoolboy was Mike Archer, a long-standing ringer and trainer, and he took the opportunity at the recent BTO Conference to mention this ring to Gudmundur Gudmundsson, the head of the Icelandic Ringing Scheme, who was speaking at the conference. So over breakfast the recovery was reported and on his return to Iceland the ringing details soon surfaced.

ISR 12250 was in fact a Pink-footed Goose ringed as a moulting bird in July 1953 by none other than Sir Peter Scott (or Mr Peter Scott as he was then); another fascinating twist to the tale. It had presumably been shot in winter in the UK and somehow made its way to a London restaurant, where its preparation left something to be desired!

Some Pink-footed Geese not yet in pies (Tommy Holden)

By chance, sharing that same conference breakfast table was Chris du Feu, who has been working with the Icelandic Ringing Scheme in converting their recovery coding to a standard EURING format. Their system has always been to give a new code to each new finding circumstance and to date there have been 525 ways of recovering birds in Iceland. But this was their first ever record of a ring found in a pie, so became circumstance #526.