Thursday, 16 August 2012

Flick Me A Swift!

In June, whilst out checking on a few nests around the local cemetery, we noticed some Swifts flying particularly low amongst the gravestones. We decided to take the opportunity to try some flick netting so jumping in the car we whizzed back to the house, picked up the gear and hurried back before the Swifts started flying high again.

This was my first time flick netting and it was great to learn a new technique of catching birds. We soon had our first bird, a stunning male Swift – my first!

As I was handed my very first Swift I was warned of their claws, thinking ‘ach it’ll be fine’ I ignored this warning, bad idea! These little high flying wonders have such extremely sharp claws it’s unreal and very painful! Lesson learned I think! 

Unfortunately a downside of ringing these beautiful birds are the not so beautiful ‘passengers’ they carry with them. The biggest flat flies I have seen and they were so fond of me that I even ended up bringing some home, unknowingly to me!

By the end of the session we had a good wee catch and in doing so I learned how to age and sex the species. A stunning bird that I never dreamed of being able to get close to let alone ring – opportunist ringing at it’s very best!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Killington Gulls 2012

Back in June Chris and I met up with Steve and his new trainee Jamie at Killington reservoir, Cumbria. It was time for the annual ringing of the Black-headed Gull colony that resides on the islands.

The chicks at Killington are ringed every year (see last year’s post). This year the team managed to round-up and ring over 230 chicks.

As part of Ciaran & Kane's Black-headed gull study the biggest and strongest chicks had darvics put on them along with the standard BTO metal rings. This is to allow the birds movements to be tracked via sightings sent in by the public, without the birds needing to be re-captured again. 

Sightings of these colour marked gulls (dark blue darvics with white digits) can be sent to bhgulls'@'

I always look forward to the seabird ringing season every year. Being in an active gull colony, gulls circling overhead, calling and squawking, even the smell of the air – I love it (must be the ringer in me!).

It’s always great fun running around after gull chicks. I especially love the slow motion chases through the water when you are only slightly faster than the gulls!

As always the nesting gulls on the island were all at different stages. Some chicks were already on the wing whilst some nests contained small chicks or even eggs!

A great day was had by the team and I hope that Jamie enjoyed his first gull ringing experience and that all of the biting, scratching and pooing hasn’t put him off coming back!

A very tired and smelly team!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Pursuing Peewits

Now that the nesting season is coming to an end and things are starting to quiet down I am finding myself spending less time looking for new nests and more time in front of the computer working on databases, reports and finding time to blog!

One of my favourite parts of this summer was finding and monitoring Lapwing nests or Peewits as they are referred to back home.

As part of our partnership’s (Brides, Bridge & Dinsmore) nest challenge this year we decided to spend a lot of time early on in the season searching for Lapwing nests as Lapwing are on the red list due to recent decline and are also on the BTO nest recording priority list.

This is the first year I have monitored Lapwing nests. I really enjoy searching for them as it yields quite the challenge. The search is best done in a team as sitting adults are very hard to keep track off as they silently sneak off their nests as soon as they spot you, making the nests incredibly hard to pin down.

Once found we carefully and discreetly mark the nests a few metres away so that we can find them again in the vast fields. Once the chicks hatch however we enter an entirely different ball game. If you are lucky enough to find the chicks when they are young then they often stay in the nest and are easier to find.

Perfectly hidden - chicks in the nest

A newly hatched chick complete with egg tooth

As soon as the chicks are strong enough they leave the nest. When the adults sense danger they alarm call and the chicks in turn hide amongst their perfectly camouflaged surroundings. Again teamwork comes in extremely importantly here as whilst one member walks out to the chicks the other members can watch the chicks through binoculars and direct them to their exact location.

I really enjoy monitoring and ringing Peewit chicks as I find their fluffy appearance too cute to resist (very girly I know!)

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Just a quick post today as I have been rather busy since moving down to Greater Manchester last week. Since finishing university for the year I have moved down to spend the summer nest recording and to continue with my ringing training. My main job whilst here is to monitor a number of reedbeds for breeding Reed Warblers which so far has been going rather well although after this recent spell of heavy rain I am a bit worried about a number of the nests.

Our little nest recording team (Brides, Bridge & Dinsmore) has been busy finding and monitoring nests. We have also been continuing to monitoring the Tree Sparrows at Martin Mere who are now well into their second broods with most now on eggs.

We have also now finished monitoring the boxes in Atherton Woods where most of the chicks have fledged although we will still continue to monitor the site for open nests. An unexpected find last week was a pair of Goldcrests building their tiny nest high up in a fir tree!

As well as monitoring boxes at WWT Martin Mere and Atherton Woods we have also been general nest finding and have so far had some great finds including Oystercatcher, Song Thrush, Greenfinch and my first Reed Bunting (two of them!).

Reed Bunting nests, both found well hidden amongst thick vegetation.

My Dad has also been keeping an eye on our nests back in the garden in Stranraer along with his Herring Gull nest in Mallaig harbour. The gulls in the harbour have now successfully hatched 2 out of the 3 eggs and the chicks are doing well, well fed on chips I presume!

We’ve had a great season in the garden back home with our first record of Coal Tits breeding in one of our bird boxes that have now successfully fledged 7 young. Rather excitingly a pair of Swallows have begun nesting in one of our sheds. This is the first time they have ever nested in our garden after a failed attempt 11 years ago, we have lived in that house for 23 years!

As well as nest recording we have been out ringing at the weekends and have had some amazing catches lately but I will blog about these very soon, watch this space but for now it’s time to go out nesting again!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Stargazing in The Afternoon

Last Saturday Chris and I spent the afternoon trapping in his garden in Ormskirk. I’ve never spent much time trapping since starting my training ( bar using the odd potter trap) so it was a great opportunity to get to grips with how they operate.

Potter traps set under the feeders

Drop trap

The main aim of the afternoon was to catch Starlings as this year’s first broods had just fledged and were busy eating the Bridges out of house and home!

Even after the traps were triggered these greedy birds still continued eating!

During the afternoon we caught a total of 20 new Starlings and 1 Blackbird.


I had only ringed a couple of Starlings before so it was a great chance to get to grips with ageing and sexing the species.

Adult Male

Tail feathers belonging to a male born last year

Tail feathers of an adult born before last year

I must say Starlings are loud buggers! The couple I had ringed previously were very quiet but these guys liked to let all of the neighbours know what we were up to with their squawks and squeals...I only wonder what the neighbours actually thought we were up to?!

Adult male

I really enjoyed an afternoon of trapping. Ringing in the sun is definitely a great way to relax!

Big thanks to Chris for a great afternoon in sunny Ormskirk and here's to the next time!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Chough City

Just back from a rather busy few days in North Wales with Chris. We kicked off the weekend with a spot of nesting with Alex Jones. We had a great evening around the North Wales coast, even finding a perfectly camouflaged Ringed Plover nest. We also ringed a brood of Linnet that Chris and Alex had found a few weeks before.

On Friday Chris and I met up with Tony Cross and spent the day ringing Choughs around the North Wales coast. Until Friday I had never even seen a Chough and so when I got my very first views of an adult sweeping over the sea I was in owe. They are stunning birds with their jet black feathers and blood red beaks and feet, I feel so privileged to have been able to ring some chicks.

My first Chough!

Armed with a schedule 1 license for Chough we set off to monitor some nest sites around the coast. Tony has been monitoring Choughs for many years now and has been colour ringing them in order to gather as much information as possible about the species. As we visited each nest site we also read the colour rings of the adults for the project.

This was my first time ringing any kind of corvid and I really enjoyed it especially the calls the chicks make, reminds me of a parrot I used to know! The grip of their talons is quite impressive which is one of the reasons why it is easiest to let the chicks stand on their own instead of in the traditional ringer’s grip – feels very unatural not to hold them, as if they might fly away at any moment!

In total we checked 8 nest sites and ringed 21 chicks, a very busy day and one of the most enjoyable days I think I’ve spent ringing.

As well as gaining experience in ringing pulli and corvids, the day was also a great opportunity for me to gain confidence around heights. I used to absolutely terrified of heights, even struggling with small ladders but since becoming a ringer I have started to conquer this fear in order to be able to do the things that I want to such as seabird ringing. You wouldn’t of caught me anywhere near a cliff edge a couple of years ago but put a Chough on that cliff edge and my fear seems to just melt away – great therapy!

You'll find me on the edge of a cliff but there's no way you'd catch me going over it...well  maybe one day...!

Each nest site we visited offered some stunning scenery but the last nest was definitely my favourite. As the sun set over the sea we sat on a cliff top covered in Bluebells ringing a brood of four (rather well behaved) Choughs. As well as being a beautiful site this place kept us on our toes as we had to walk through a field with a rather large, angry looking bull – certainly kept us alert!

I really enjoyed what was the longest day I have ever spent ringing – over 14 hours and I would love to do it all over again some day. I always feel privileged to be a bird ringer and get opportunities like this, it’s the kindness of other ringers such as Chris and Tony that help trainees such as myself that are just what the ringing scheme needs.

2 very happy ringers with the last brood of the day

After finally getting back to Bangor at midnight we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep but life never stops for a ringer as the very next morning we were up early and on the other side of Anglesey before breakfast! We were ringing a surprise brood of Ravens with Tony – another new species for me and one that I have been wanting to do ever since I started ringing and found my first nest in 2010.

I’ve seen quite a few blog posts featuring the ringing of Raven chicks and they always comment on how ugly the chicks are but I must say I completely disagree – they’re beautiful with their blue eyes and thick jet black beaks.

Ugly? I think not!

A huge thanks to Tony for letting me come along and ring the chicks, I had a fantastic day. Also big thanks to Chris for inviting me and putting me up.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Eider Island

 It’s not often I get to go ringing in Scotland so when I received an email asking for help ringing a nationally important colony of Eider ducks off the West coast, I jumped at the chance.

I had never ringed Eider ducks before and so was very much looking forward to joining the Clyde Ringing Group on their annual expedition to Horse Island, targeting the species as part of a BTO RAS project (Retrapping Adults for Survival). More information on RAS can be found here.

Horse Island
We were blessed with a rare hot sunny day complete with calm, flat seas which made for a smooth crossing to the island which lays just off Ardrossan. As we left the harbour and set sail for the island we were greeted by Black Guillemots and the distant OooooO calls from the Eiders.

The aim of the day was to catch as many of the female Eiders on thier nests as possible. They were caught using landing nets and the small team of catchers worked together and moved around the island in a group in order to avoid causing too much disturbance to the nests birds.

Looking for the next target

An Eider caught at her nest ready for ringing.
A number of biometrics were taken from the Eiders and their eggs were also aged using a technique of placing an egg in a small bucket of water. The height at which the egg floats then tells you how far into incubation it is, from this you can then work out a laying date as well as an expected hatching date for the clutch.

Ageing Eider eggs

I was surprised to learn how skinny the females were after having spent the last month sat tight on their eggs, not being able to feed.

Being weighed (Eider in a bag!)

I always enjoy being in a seabird colony, the atmosphere, the adults calling overhead and yes even the smell, weird I know! As well as seeing my first Eider nest I also enjoyed seeing so many different gull nests as all three Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed and Herring gulls nest on the island.

Resourceful nesting at its' best!

Spot the nest!
Variation in gull eggs

Hatching gull chick

Eider nest
I was rather surprised at the amount of egg dumping that was taking place. Many Eider nests contained Mallard and even gull eggs but it wasn’t only other species that were dumping as one poor Eider was sitting on 9 eggs (an average clutch size for the island being only 5).

This Eiders going to have her hands full!

Spot the odd one out

It was also a real treat to see my first Eider chicks, many of which were hatching out of their eggs as we found them.

Hatching Eider

Newly hatched Eider chick
As well as Eider chicks, there was also a good number of gull chicks about too including this Great Black-back. 
Over 80 new adult Eiders were caught during the day with many more already ringed birds being processed too.

Everyone had a throughally enjoyable day on the island – we even had fantastic views of a Peregrine as we sat down for lunch surrounded by nesting gulls who were evidently eyeing up our lunches!

"You going to finish that sandwich?"
It was a great experience and I learned a lot. It was really useful for my training to get to grips with using the larger sized rings and playing the role of a ‘catcher’ was great fun too – even managed to catch a couple of Eiders by hand. I must say that after hearing so many warning stories of the horrors of Eider poo, I really didn’t find it that bad – I’m yet to find something that smells worse that Coot poo! I also managed not to get pooed on once by the dive bombing gulls overhead – no idea how I did that!

My first Eider - especially loved the way she made soft Oooo sounds in my hands, beautiful birds.
I want to say a massive thanks to The Clyde Ringing Group who are always so welcoming to me and especially to Iain for inviting me along.