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.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bling Time For Martin Mere’s Tree Sparrows

 Yesterday was spent at WWT’s Martin Mere monitoring their breeding Tree Sparrows. As most of the 100+ boxes contained chicks big enough to be ringed it was for this year's first broods to receive their bling and be welcomed into the BTO database.


The guys very kindly let me ring all of the chicks, allowing me to gain vital pulli ringing experience. I’m really enjoying monitoring the Tree Sparrows as they are so cheeky and characteristic, especially the chicks with their punky hair styles!


I love the fact that the ring sequence we were using started with TS too…coincidence?!

Obviously made for a Tree Sparrow!

As well as monitoring the Tree Sparrows at Martin Mere we also recorded many new nests including Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Moorhen, Mallard, Stock Dove and Jackdaw – Jackdaw being one of which I am particularly looking forward to monitoring after seeing photos of how beautiful their eggs are.

Woodpigeon Nest

As the first round of Tree Sparrow chicks are now almost ready to fledge, in some boxes the second wave has already begun with a few already containing eggs. The work never stops with nest recording, just as well we love doing it!


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Broomsticks At Dawn!

 This post is dedicated to my very hard working dad who has been helping me nest record in Scotland this year. He has been checking the nest boxes in our garden back home in Stranraer as well as finding and keeping an eye on a very special nest at his work.

My dad works on the Courisk ferry that travels to the Isle of Skye and he has been watching a pair of Herring Gulls in Mallaig harbour. I love this nest in particular due to unique way in which my dad records it. Upon his first visit to the nest he received a nice welcome from the gulls in the form of a (not so pleasant) 'white shower'!

Gull nest site
The nest location - overlooking the moored boats.

After it was clear that the female had laid her eggs my dad made his second visit but this time he wasn’t so keen on another ‘white shower’ so he came armed! He brought his friend Donzo from the boat who was armed with a broomstick and bravely fended off the gulls so that my dad could get an egg count for me and this photo – well done guys. After the guy's very brief visit to the nest they retreated back to the boat and as soon as they left the female settled back down on her eggs - looks like she's going to make a good parent.

Gull eggs 001
Her clutch of 3 eggs
Apparently these gulls now give the crew on the boat regular ‘evils’ – better watch your backs! The crew on the boat have promised to keep an eye on the gulls for me and my dad shall be giving me regular updates, looking forward to following this one for sure.

As well as his gulls my dad has been regularly checking the nest boxes back home and has just told me that we now have our first Blue Tit chicks.

Careful jungle 23rd April
Eggs on 23rd April

careful jungle
Newly hatched chicks on 11th May

Currently we have 2 Great Tits on eggs in the garden. We did have 3 but interestingly one Great Tit (who had 3 eggs) was ousted by a bumble bee!

Personally I’ve been very busy over the last couple of weeks monitoring nests both in Manchester with the guys and up in Stirling, updates to follow.

Monday, 7 May 2012

North West Nesting

Another end to a weekend’s nest recording and ringing down in Manchester. We started off the weekend monitoring the Tree Sparrows at WWT Martin Mere who are now in to the full swing of things, with over 70 boxes now containing chicks or eggs.

We also recorded a number of other nests at Martin Mere including Barn Owl, Stock Dove, Moorhen, Mallard and Blackbird - to name but a few. A nice surprise was getting to ring a lovely adult Stock Dove.


On Sunday ‘Team Sparra’ headed out in search of other nests and found a good variety including Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker and Whitethroat. It was a great opportunity for me to pick up a few tips about nesting and I have now proudly adopted ‘the stick technique’! This being as simple as it sounds, gently tapping suitable vegetation checking for any adults sitting on nests - I even managed to find my first Chaffinch nest with my trusty stick!


Over the weekend I had a lesson in how to find, mark and record Lapwing nests. It was great to finally see a Lapwing nest up close after having ringed a few free roaming chicks last year.

We also tracked down and ringed a total of 10 Lapwing or as they're known back home Peewit chicks!
A highlight of the weekend was ringing a brood of Barn Owl chicks that had taken up residence in one of Kane’s boxes – 8 years after it had been put up! The female was also lifted off the nest and ringed.

Another great weekend and I have definitely learned a few new nest finding tricks – next stop Stirling!