Monday, 31 October 2011

Ring Reading for Rewarding Recoveries!

Due to improvements in technology in cameras and optics more and more ring re-sightings are being reported from members of the public. It is through re-sightings such as these that we are able to find out so much about birds and it provides key information about as revealing their movements. Ring reading is therefore a very important and rewarding hobby and so I decided to give it a go.

Although it can be difficult at times to read rings, especially the standard metal rings, it is so satisfying when you manage to read them and send the information in. The wait to hear back from the relevant sources is quite exiting and the information that comes back is very interesting and rewarding. So far I have read a variety of rings from different species and below I have included a few particularly fascinating recoveries.

I first met this Mute swan at Gartmorn Dam, Alloa when I first read his Darvic - LYC. 3 weeks later whilst hand feeding the resident male Goosander at uni I spotted a Darviced mute swan amongst the resident swans, none of which hold rings. I read the Darvic LYC and instantly this sparked in my mind and I knew that I had seen this swan before. As soon as I got back to my computer I looked through my photos and sure enough there was LYC at Gartmorn Dam 3 weeks previously.

LYC at Stirling University

So I reported the sightings to Allan Brown who got back to me the same day and told the very interesting life story of LYC. LYC was ringed as a cygnet in St. Andrews in August 2010 and re-sighted on the Eden estuary in September 2010 before being seen on the river Tay in November/December 2010. LYC had not been seen again since my sightings, which just goes to show how important it is to report any ringed birds to Without members of the public reporting these ring re-sightings stories such as the one of LYC would never be told and who knows where LYC will end up next on his adventures, only time and reporting will tell!

LYC at Gartmorn Dam


Upon my first trip to Gartmorn Dam I found a Darviced Black-headed Gull but unfortunately it would not come close enough to allow me to read it. With a lot of persistence (and bread) eventually on my third visit I could get close enough to the gull in order to read it, VK29. I was excited as I knew that it was not British. After getting back home I jumped straight online and onto  (where all colour rings can be reported) and looked up the colour/combination of the Darvic and I soon found out that this bird had come all the way from Denmark - approximately 1,000km or 620miles!  It's amazing to think that any bird you see could come from such places, so get ring reading and who knows maybe your local gull colony may hold a foreign visitor too!

VK29 at Gartmorn Dam

It's a Coot!

Of course no blog post would be complete without a mention of a Coot! On my last visit to check on my beloved Coots at Linlithgow Loch, West Lothian I was able to read the metal ring of a Coot. This was my first full metal ring reading and so I was quite happy even before getting the recovery information back from its' ringer, Mark Cubitt. It turned out that Mark ringed this Coot at Linlithgow in 2006, making this little Coot at least 5 years old who is either a resident at Linlithgow or a winter visitor. Whilst at the loch I also observed a metal ringed Black-headed gull but unfortunately as the ring was upside down and the gull would not stay in any one place for longer than a couple of seconds I could not read the full number - a future challenge for sure!

GN92445 at Linlithgow Loch

Ring reading is now a definite hobby of mine and I would recommend anyone to take it up as it is very satisfying and worthwhile. Thanks goes to the BTO, Allan Brown and Mark Cubitt for providing the recovery information.

Monday, 10 October 2011

An Unforgettable Homecoming!

I'm sorry for the lack of blogging but I have not been able to go out bird ringing since my last post as I have now moved back up to Scotland and am finding it very difficult to find ringing opportunities here.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited out ringing with the Lothian Ringing Group (LRG) at a site in West Lothian  The site is such a beautiful place, rich in wildlife - classic Scotland! The morning didn't look too promising but it turned out to be quite a day, the perfect return to Scottish ringing.

As there was quite a bit of wind yesterday we were only able to set one mist net in a sheltered area of the reserve. The aim of the day was to catch Redpolls as the site is particularly good for this species with large numbers passing through the reserve on migration.

The morning was quite slow which gave me the opportunity to get back into passerine ringing as I hadn't done any in about 2 months, I also hadn't ringed any Redpolls in over a year. Redpolls are charming little birds, always very well behaved in the hand. I love the way they cheep softy as you carry them back to the ringing base in their bird bags.

Adult Male

Unsexed Juvenile

Unsexed Juvenile. Note the contrast in the greater coverts. 

Ringing the Redpoll was a nice homecoming but I was not prepared for what happened next! At one point we heard and then observed a couple of Jays calling which turned out to be only the second record of that species for the site! On one net round as we approached the net, something 'big' could be seem caught in the net - in any ringing session seeing something big means RUN! So we ran through the boggy marsh, trying not to drop my SLR in as I went. We thought that we might have caught a Jay but what should greet us when we arrived at the net...not one but two Sparrowhawks! I have always wanted to ring a Sparrowhawk and have come so close many times with birds escaping the net just as I get to them, so frustrating! Due to the size and strength of Sparrowhawks it is very easy for them to 'bounce' back of the net and so just because one has landed in your net does not mean it is caught!

A very feisty female Sparrowhawk

This kind of catch is quite rare as not only did we catch 2 birds at the same time but neither escaped the net before we could get to them and they were actually a male and a female. It was a very different experience extracting a female Sparrowhawk from the net compared to usual passerine. The whole time I had to try and stay clear of her talons and had her bright yellow eyes starring at me the entire time. I can tell you a female Sparrowhawk is quite the handful and I felt honored to be able to get so close to such a superb hunter.

Female compared to the much smaller male.

Catching both a male and a female together was amazing because we could physically see the differences between them and although I already knew that the female was bigger than the male, I had no idea quite how big the difference was. The difference is so big that while a male takes a D sized BTO ring, the female takes an E ring. Ringing and taking biometrics was challenging as it was like holding a loaded weapon, one false move and you had a talon through your hand! The strength and grip in their talons is immense and you can understand why they are such fierce hunters.

Both birds were juveniles and the lovely heart shapes on the male's front demonstrate this.

The non-ringing highlight for me of the morning was having 46 Pink-footed Geese flying overhead - yes I counted, it's a habit from working for WWT for the past year! Probably the other highlight for the other ringers there was witnessing me fall into not one but two large holes up to my thighs!

It feels great to be back both blogging and ringing again, covered in scratches or badges of honor as I call them! I want to say a huge thanks to the LRG for inviting me out.

An unforgettable experience and the best homecoming I could of  wished for!