Sunday, 3 May 2015

It’s Starting..!

 It feels like I’ve been waiting for the birds to start getting down to it for ages now and finally, now that we are in to May, it seems that they have started to get things going. Today we had our first chicks in the form of 5 fluffy balls of the Starling variety in the Starling box at home.


Apart from the Starlings though (with a second pair nesting in our old Tawny owl box) the garden is still very quite with just a few boxes occupied, mostly with partially built nests,one with a single tit egg and another with a Great tit sitting on a full clutch. I'm hoping that things pick up soon and it looks promising as I watched Dunnocks chasing each other around and had three Chiffchaffs singing in the garden today. Our House Martins also look to be on eggs now – I always enjoy having our chittering summer visitors whizz around the garden.

This year the Great Tits decided to nest in the tiny Coal Tit box instead of their usual, much lager box, which now sits empty - strange birds!

I have seven Oystercatcher nests on the go at the minute, all with eggs laid in last week. Hoping to ring some cute chicks in the next few weeks (I have to be girly sometimes!). Most of my Oystercatcher nests are at Stirling University where they nest in good numbers around the main buildings and also on the flat roofs.


Probably the most exciting find for me so far was on Friday when I made a preliminary visit to my main Common Gull study site and was ever so excited to find the first eggs of the year!

We found three nests with one egg each and one fully built. It’ll soon get very busy for the gulls….and me!


The first eggs are particularly exciting for me as I have just started a new colour ring project on Scottish breeding Common Gull. I am currently trying to raise funds for the project on Kickstarter as ,with it being the first year of the project, the start up costs are significant. I’d really appreciate you taking the time to check out my Kickstarter page, share with friends and any donation is really appreciated as raising funds for the project is vital for its success.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Galloway Gulls

 Recently I posted a quick update about a new project I am embarking on and in this post I am going to explain a little bit more about the project and why I want to study Scottish breeding Common Gulls.

COMGU Big Chick

Common Gulls in The UK

The Galloway Common Gull Study aims to investigate the breeding biology and migratory behaviour of this stunning and charismatic bird. The Common gull larus canus, also referred to as Mew gull, is amber listed with JNCC's Birds of Conservation Concern which means that they are priority species for both conservation and research to discover why they are facing harder times.
The UK holds approximately 10% of the world's population of breeding Common Gull. As Common Gulls do not breed until 3 years old, little is known of the movements of sub-adults within the 3 years before they begin to breed. This study aims to answer that question by using individually coded colour rings to track the movements of both the adults and young from the breeding colonies. As the breeding biology of the  Common Gull is understudied in the UK, by carrying out this study, we may learn new previously undiscovered information about the behaviour of this often overlooked species.

Many adults and a significant number of chicks are metal ringed in the UK every year but as metal ringing provides relatively little return in comparison to colour ringing, little has been discovered about the differences between adult and juvenile dispersal of Common Gulls away from the breeding colony. 


Through BTO recoveries of birds ringed both within the UK and in the rest of Europe we know that Common Gulls regularly migrate between the UK and Scandinavia but most of these birds are likely to be ringed as adults. A similar project to the this, run in the North-East of Scotland, recently had a Common Gull, ringed as a chick, recovered in Spain which is only the UK's second record for this species despite (at the time) 94,916 Common Gulls being ringed in the UK - See Here

It is clear that more work is needed in order to understand the movements of juveniles up until the age of which they begin to breed, and indeed to discover where these juveniles end up choosing to breed whether it be in their natal colony that they were born in or somewhere further afield.

The Galloway Study

To find out more about the breeding biology and dispersal of the Common Gull this study will monitor a number of breeding colonies within Galloway. At the main two study sites a sample number of nests will be regularly monitored for the BTO's Nest Record Scheme and adults at these sites will also be caught and colour marked. Colour marking allows individual birds to be tracked in the field without the need to recapture them.

Common Gull Nest (2014)Common Gull Nest (2014)

At all of the sites two visits will be made during the latter part of the breeding season to ring the chicks and colour mark as many as possible. Only chicks big enough to safely hold a colour mark will have the marks added. Due to the cost of colour ringing this fundraising page is vital in allowing the study to colour mark as many birds as possible as the higher the number of birds marked the greater quality of information yielded from future observations. 

In order to track the bird's movements the study shall rely upon a number of different sources from observations from members of the study group initially to then reaching out to the public and birders and ringers alike for their sightings. It is vital that through advertisement on social media and the likes that people are made aware of the project so that they know to keep a look out for our marked birds and also where they can direct their sightings. All sightings for this project can be sent to: crbirds'@' Upon receiving such sightings a member of the study team shall reply back to the observer with a full life history of the bird. The study is very grateful for any observation or sighting sent in.

This study should provide some very interesting data which will be shared on the project's blog and in annual reports. Regular updates can be found on the blog and on twitter - @WildlifeG & @CR_Birds 


As this is the first year of the study there are some significant costs involved in setting up and so I have started a Kickstarter fundraising page and I'd really appreciate any donations and shares/links to the page from my friends, followers and supporters. There are also some really exciting rewards up for grabs when you donate and any donation is so greatly appreciated and will enable the study to reach its’ full potential.

 COMGU Chick ringed

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Galloway Common Gull Study

Yesterday I was given the go ahead from the BTO to start a very exciting new project - to study the site fidelity and juvenile dispersal of Scottish breeding Common Gull. I will be conducting this study by monitoring a number of sites in Galloway with a combined effort of nest recording and colour ringing.

As this is the first year of the study there are some significant costs involved and so I have started a Kickstarter fundraising page and I'd really appreciate any donations and shares/links to the page from my friends, followers and supporters. There is a lot more information about the project on the website (see the link below) and there are also some really exciting rewards up for grabs when you donate.

Thanks for your support 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Just Oot The Back Door!

 On Monday afternoon I was joined by members of my new ringing team to try out a new catching site at Stirling University….just ootside my flat. I had been feeding up the site with a mixture of seed and nuts for a few weeks in hope of attracting a good variety of birds and was excited to try it out. This was the first time that I’d been mist netting properly since recovering from a bad hand injury last summer so I was a little nervous at first but luckily I now have a very supportive team of ringers around me who are incredibly encouraging and helpful towards me which in turn helps me gain my confidence back.


We soon erected four mist nets and retreated to our ringing station to await our first feathered visitors…which didn’t take long. We soon had a good number of birds coming through including a nice partially leucistic male Blackbird which has been submitted to the BTO’s Abnormal Plumage Survey



As we had a good steady flow of birds throughout the afternoon I was able to learn some new ageing and sexing techniques from Chris, who is a very experienced and knowledgeable ringer. It’s very interesting to ring with other ringers as everyone has their own approach to ageing and sexing. I feel that the more experience gained with other ringers, the better the depth of knowledge you gather – which overall makes for a better ringer.

Male Goldcrest

A great afternoon was had ringing over 60 birds of 13 species including a bonnie pair of Long-tailed tits.

Mr & Mrs

A couple of highlights for myself included my first Great Spotted Woodpecker……shortly followed his mate…

Male on the left, female on right.

Stunning plumage

Ouch….the male Woodpecker was in a particularly grumpy mood!

Another personal highlight was ringing my first Nuthatch!


Nuthatch are not so common North of the border but are doing well around the Stirling area, breeding on campus in recent years.


This male Nuthatch was particularly special for me as whilst living in Wales many years ago I caught an unringed Nuthatch but as my Dad was visiting at the time I though I would give it to him to ring, thinking that another would come along sooner or later…….4 years later!!!


All in all we enjoyed a delightful afternoon’s ringing and will definitely be back soon but with birds starting to nest and migrants returning it will soon be time for me to get the old nesting stick and be prepared for the funny looks off passers by as I clamber about in the bushes and up trees in search of nests for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme.


Monday, 2 February 2015

Summing up The Siskin

Just a quick update on the Siskin today:

It's been almost a year since I was sat at my bedroom window at university catching Siskins - See Here. In the end I ringed over 350 and now have had time to play with Google Earth and map the controls/recoveries. I managed to catch 16 controls between March and May last year and as you can see from the map below they came from all over the UK.

Siskin Controls

Since metal ringing, a number of Siskins I ringed have been recovered elsewhere, mostly within Scotland.

Siskin Recoveries

So far this Winter Siskin numbers at garden feeders have been exceptionally low according to the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch. I’m hoping that they will return soon as I'm counting the days until they return to the university and find my new feeding station. I now have my mist net endorsement and so am ready and waiting for them! Hopefully I will get some more interesting controls and recoveries. Fingers crossed!


Excuse the ‘naked’ nails but I had to share the little beauty, one of the many juveniles I caught in the garden back home (Stranraer) this summer. Such colourful characters.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Roaming Redpolls


I’ve been waiting all Winter for the return of our Redpoll flock in Stranraer. It’s been a very quiet Winter for them here with few Siskin and Goldfinch. The usual Blackcap (or Fatcaps as we call them) arrived in early November as usual and appear to have not moved off the suet feeder since arriving…hence the name!

Normally at this time of the year we have a flock of 300+ Redpoll in the garden noisly feeding away on Niger seed. Last year however was very different as the flock which we would expect to have arrived in late October, to be gone by early April, instead turned up at the end of April and stayed on until the beginning of June, some even staying on to breed!




Last Winter was fantastic for ringing in the garden and either in anticipation of the flock arriving back soon or in memory of what used to be I’ve decided to create a post about last Spring’s ‘Roaming Redpolls’




As I had a short break (just 1 week) between University finishing and and my annual summer migration to Manchester last May I took the opportunity for some garden ringing (with members from North Solway Ringing Group). In 3 sessions we managed to newly ring over 200 Redpoll which is a new garden record.





As well as the Redpoll we also caught a good number of Siskin and Goldfinch, catching our first (freshly out of the nest) juvenile Siskin of the year.



Along with the 200+ Redpoll we also processed 18 controls (birds ringed elsewhere). 2 of these controls were particularly special as they were from Brussels! The first foreign controls ever caught in our garden (see here for map).


P1080184 P1080326


I recently received the details for the other controls and they revealed an interesting North Westerly movement (see map).


Redpoll Map2 (1)


All-in-all it was a very successful week of garden ringing and definitely worth the 40kg odd of Niger seed they consumed…or threw on the ground!




Just today via Twitter I heard that some Redpoll have started to appear in a garden not to far away – could this be the very first ‘scouts’ of our flock? Will they all return again? Or will this Winter score a blank?! Only time will tell but the new traps have been built, plenty of rings are in stock and the garage is piled high with Niger seed…so we’re ready for them!




Special thanks to the BTO for the ringing details and to Kane for the UK recovery map.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Whooper Hugs


Last Thursday I joined the team at WWT Caerlaverock for their annual swan catch. The main aim of the catch was to capture, ring and health screen Whooper swans as part of WWT's long term ongoing study on the species - looking into the movements, family structure, health & body condition of the birds.

It was my first time at Caerlaverock since they finished the new Sir Peter Scott hide and it is looking fantastic, well worth a visit.

After the team was briefed we all gathered, quietly waiting for the morning feed to take place by the swan pipe. Everything went to plan and we soon had a nice catch of 104 Whoopers and 30 Mutes.


There were a surprising number of new Whooper swans caught during the catch, many of these birds could well be on passage and 'calling off' at Caerlaverock en route further North to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

All birds were swiftly processed and released with Whooper Swans also being colour ringed. Any colour ring sightings of Whooper Swans are greatly received by WWT and can be submitted to: colourmarkedswans ‘@’

Whooper Swan
Full biometrics were also taken from the Whooper swans – this included head and tarsus measurements as well as recording the weight of the birds captured, this allows WWT research staff to look at the pre migration weights of the swans prior to their departure and allows the weight to be compared to those taken at the start of the Winter when the birds first arrived.


The average Whooper swans weighs between 7 - 14kg. Most swans caught during the catch were showing a good healthy weight in preparation for their migration back to Iceland.


WWT's well organised catching team at work.

Whilst processing the birds it was a great chance to have a look at their bill patterns. Most people will know of the Bewick’s swan’s unique bill patterns but most aren't aware that Whoopers too have this unique patterning and can also be individually identified by their bill patterns. The three patterns seen are: dark neb, yellow neb (most common) and penny neb (my favourite).


It was great to get up close and personal with my favourite swan species again and also to get out with ringing with other members of The North Solway Ringing Group. Big thanks to WWT for inviting me along.


With Whoopers on the move I think last weekend was the last time I’ll be see the 2013/14 wintering swans. I’m hoping to get out to Iceland this summer to see some Whoopers in their breeding grounds which would be amazing and would love to see some familiar birds from Caerlaverock or Martin Mere, you never know!