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!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Noisy Neighbours

As I write this blog post at my desk in my small student room at university, beside me on my wee windowsill there is a noisy, chattering group of bonnie bright yellow Siskins squabbling as they feed away on an array of sunflower hearts and niger seed. Perhaps a very noisy bunch of neighbours to have but who needs window boxes full of flowers when you can have a windowsill full of these charismatic tropical looking avian delights?!


I’ve been very lucky this year in terms of which room the university has placed me in as I am directly opposite a mature mixed woodland which is abound with wildlife from Roe Deer in the early mornings to Redwing in the afternoon and Tawny Owls at night with regular flocks of Pink-footed geese overhead. As there is so much wildlife, in particular birdlife, outside my window I decided to place a window feeder up in the hope of attracting some colourful visitors.


One feeder soon lead to two, three, four and now five as my window is filled with Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tits, Robins and of course those beautiful Siskins. So as you can imagine being a keen C permit ringer it wasn't long before I built my first trap and hung it outside my window.

P1110370  P1110361

Expecting to catch the odd Blue and Great Tit I was quite surprised when I started to catch the Long-tailed Tits and Robins.



Before long the Siskin flocks started moving into the nearby woods and taking over the feeders. After the windowsill starting becoming very yellow… and loud I put up a couple more traps and soon started catching a good number of Siskin.


In just a few sessions I have now ringed over 150 Siskins of which I was never expecting anywhere near that number – so much so I have currently stopped ringing as I’ve ran out of rings!


I have also, so far, caught 7 UK controls (birds ringed elsewhere by other ringers).


I love now that, on my days off, I am able to wake up, set the traps and be catching these beautiful birds in the comfort of my own wee room in my pyjamas! Now that’s ringing in style…


I love catching these ‘British Canaries’ – they always brighten up my day!

*I will update my blog when I get details back from the BTO about the controlled birds.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sex. Lies and Videotape!

 If you've just Googled the title of this blog post then you may be disappointed as this is a story about a new project following the lives and exploits of the Eurasian Reed Warbler…sorry!
Pink Red Light Green
Colour ringed Reed Warbler: Pink Red Light Green

Back in 2012 Kane and I decided to start a new project, using colour rings to find out more about the secret lives of Reed Warblers for my dissertation at uni as part of my Ecology degree.

This project aims to investigate the Reed Warbler’s behaviour and breeding biology. By using the combination of colour ringing, nest recording and camera trapping we are studying; annual pairings, polygamy within the breeding colony, nest sittings within the reedbed and whether they change year by year, annual nest locations of individuals/pairs and the breeding success of young in comparison to older birds.

Snapshot 10 (27-08-2012 18-14)
Pink Orange Black - filmed at nest 62 (2012)

The study site (a reedbed in Cheshire) was chosen because Kane had been nest recording there for the previous few years. For the past two nesting seasons I have ‘migrated’ down to Cheshire to spend the summer in the reedbeds to monitor the Reed Warblers, as well as other nesting species.

Small REEWA chicks

To create our colour ring population we have been mist netting the reedbeds to capture adults. These adults are then sexed and aged and the full biometrics taken.

Mist Netting Kane

Individual colour marks along with standard BTO metal rings are added to the birds to allow them to be identified in the field without the need to recapture them.

Colour rings ready for next season

Through mist netting the reedbeds we have had quite a few interesting recoveries and controlled from ringed birds. Highlights include: a French ringed Sedge Warbler and a Reed Warbler chick (ringed in the nest) to Kensington, London!

"Feed us" - hungry chicks in the nest waiting to be fed

As well as colour ringing we have been filming the adults back at the nest. This allows us to view the adults, in their pairs, without causing too much disturbance to the breeding birds. The camera used is well camouflaged within the reeds and films for a 30 minute slot only before being removed.

Video of Nest 42 - Pink Pink Black & Pink Orange Light Green (2013)

Throughout the breeding season (April-September) I walk the reedbeds to nest record. Every Reed Warbler nest found is labelled, position marked on a map and measurements taken. All chicks are also ringed. In 2012 I recorded 77 nesting attempts (nesting attempts recorded from when eggs are laid) and in 2013 I recorded 53 attempts.

REEWA nest
Fresh clutch of Reed Warbler eggs

Before 2012 I had only ringed a handful of Reed Warblers before and only ever seen one nest (shown to be by Kane the previous year). To date I have now ringed over 300 of them! Most of the birds I have ringed have been chicks, ringed in the nest during weekly reedbed walks. In 2012 I ringed 159 chicks and in 2013 110 were ringed, who knows what 2014 will bring!

REEWA chicks by nest
Just ringed and ready to be carefully placed back in the nest

Whilst out nest recording in the reedbeds I have fallen in love with the humble Reed Warbler. I have to admit that before I started this project I used to think that they were just dull little brown birds (for shame) but now I see them in a whole new light. They make amazing migrations to Africa, build exquisite nests, lay beautiful eggs and have such a happy song – yes you will have guessed that I’ve become a little obsessed!

Ringed REEWA chick
   A recently fledged chick caught amongst the reeds

I have really enjoyed spending my last two summers in the Cheshire reedbeds studying this species and am very much looking forward to the next two. I’m excited to start answering so many questions that I have and to learn more about one of my favourite species. Bring on April, the sunny weather and the return of these reedbed wonders.

A Cheshire sunset over the reedbeds.

I would like to say a special thanks to The South Manchester Ringing Group of whom we have collaborated with at the site, my trainer Steve for his advice and encouragement on this project, the BTO for their permission to conduct this project and continued support and most of all to Kane my fellow nest recorder, Reed Warbler enthusiast and partner in this project without whom this would not be possible.

Pink Orange Mauve after being ringed (above) and filmed back at the nest (below)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Long Time No Blog - I'm Back!

I'm back!

After a good year and half away I've finally come back to the world of blogging. I've been very busy since my last blog post, gaining a restricted C permit for one and starting up some new ringing projects. But I shall talk about these in more details in my next few posts, for now I just want to say a quick hello and to let you know that I'm still alive!

Until next time.....

A little sneak preview from my next post.