19 February 2014

Puffin wreck in France

In recent weeks the full impact of the winter's storms on some of our seabirds has become apparent. With many birds now returning to breeding ledges in western Europe, they will have been caught up in the incessant low-pressure systems hitting our coasts making feeding, and life in general, very difficult. Here in the office we've received many reports of storm-driven auks and Shags, but standing out were reports of dead Puffins in France.

Razorbill M91165 was ringed as a chick on Sanda Island in 1997 and was one of 40 birds found washed ashore at Watergate Bay, Cornwall on Valentine's Day. Photo: Newquay Beach Care.
Looking back at the number of winter Puffin recoveries we normally receive from abroad (below), the total varies from year to year, but averages at fewer than three. We've seen smaller wrecks before, including 16 birds in both 1979 and 2003, but so far this year we've received reports of an unprecedented 38 birds. It's sobering to think these are just the ringed birds we know about, and each report of a ringed bird comes with the comment "one ringed bird amongst many more on beach".

Annual number of winter Puffin recoveries from abroad
You might think that the change in the number of recoveries might be due to a change in the number of birds ringed, but for such a long-lived species any changes in the annual ringing total will have minimal impact on the proportion of the population that's ringed. In fact, there were more birds ringed in the 1980s that any time since. Check the annual ringing total for Puffin on the Online Ringing Report.

Whilst seabird populations can be remarkably resilient in response to such events, it'll be interesting to see just what impact these storms have on our breeding seabirds.

14 February 2014

Extreme Egret

We have previously posted on the amazing movements of one of our most recent colonists; the Little Egret. Reports of foreign-ringed Little Egrets have so far come from the Netherlands and the Channel Islands, but Little Egrets ringed in the UK and Ireland have been found in the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Channel Islands, France, Spain and the Netherlands (see below).

The two longest-distance recoveries to date are a bird ringed in Bangor, Wales, seen in the Canary Islands (2,923km) and a bird ringed in Galway, Ireland, seen in the Azores (2,133km). Coincidentally, these were both juveniles found following severe cold weather for the UK and Ireland in 2010, or more likely it could be just the erratic dispersal of Little Egrets.

We are now going to have to change the map, as another pioneering Little Egret from the same colony in Galway has been seen in Iceland! Little Egret H-D (pictured below, when ringed as a chick) was ringed by Chris Benson on 4th June 2013, and subsequently seen with four unringed birds in Iceland on 20th October, over 1,200km from Galway. As you might expect, Little Egrets are very rare in Iceland, so it is interesting to speculate whether this will be the next country to be colonised by this species?

The bird on the left is the extreme traveler (photo David McNicholas)
For more information about both of these amazing movements from Ireland, and the ringing project in general, click here.

04 February 2014

Predictable migration - not!

The great Chris Mead described bird migration as "a regular movement between areas inhabited at different times of the year", but perhaps a more complete description might be "movements occurring at predictable times of each year, between breeding and one or more non-breeding areas, and therefore involving flights in predictable directions." But life isn't always quite so simple and there will always be birds that break (or rewrite) the rules. Lesser Redpolls are being caught with increasing frequency at feeders and some of the movements they make are... interesting!

Two birds ringed within a couple of days of each other in early April 2013 in New Clipstone, Nottinghamshire (in red below), were then recaught by ringers in early November, but at rather opposite compass points. One made it a short way south to Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire, whilst another made a rather lengthier trip up to Barra, Western Isles (both in blue below).

View Unusual migrations in a larger map

Whilst this is a little unusual, Stanford Reservoir seems to be the centre of such unusual movements, with two birds ringed there on 6th October 2012 making equally diverse movements. Both of these birds were recaught on 27th April 2013, but one in Lockerbie, Dumfries & Galloway, and the other in Brandon, Suffolk (both shown in green above).

So answers on a postcard please as to what these birds are up to!