Saturday, 3 December 2016

Quick Start to Winter

The Sea Buckthorn bushes at Castlerock Golf Course are still drooping from the weight of the millions of bright orange berries and attracting good numbers of birds.  The first frosts seem to have trigged the fermentation of the berries and they are beginning to ooze with an aroma of what I'd imagine an alcoholic Balsamic Vinegar would smell like. 
There are good numbers of Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch gorging on the berries but the hoped for winter thrushes are lacking with only a couple of Fieldfare floating by and a single Redwing overhead.
On the first visit last Saturday David, Dean and I spent half an hour clearing the brambles etc. from the net rides but we were up and running fairly quickly.  We trapped a total of 35 new birds including the first Greenfinches I've caught this year (hard to come by these days) plus our first fledged House Sparrow for the year and the first for the estuary.


Dean and I were down again this morning with another decent catch of 27 new birds and 6 retraps from the previous week.  The best of the birds was a female Blackcap which are always special birds in winter.  The nice morning was boosted with the sightings of Harbour Porpoises, Grey Seal and 54 species of birds including 1500+ LapwingPeregrineRed-throated Diver, GannetGoldeneye and a patch tick in the form of a female Pheasant - species 122 for the patch this year!           


PSS Ringing Totals 26/11/2016 + 03/12/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   4                          
Blackcap                   1
Blue Tit                    13              3
Bullfinch                    4
Chaffinch                 15             
Dunnock                   1            
Goldcrest                  1
Goldfinch                  1
Greenfinch                8
House Sparrow         1
Reed Bunting            1  
Robin                        7              3
Song Thrush             5          

Total                        62             6            

Sea Buckthorn

We didn't visit the site until the end of December last year (when we also set it up) and we anticipate the berries to last at least March, so that should keep is busy until the return of spring.

Dean and David with the ringing buggy (handy for the walk to get to the site)

In my traipsing's across the Bann Estuary I have found a few great pools which hold good numbers of Snipe and the odd Jack Snipe.  I visited one of these pools 3/4 weeks and flushed 69 Snipe in a relatively small area.  Before the first visit to Castlerock we thought we would put up a couple of nets and see if we could catch any before dawn. It didn't go quite as planned and the c20 Snipe we flushed all swung left and flushed out over the estuary rather than going straight towards the nets.  We devised a new plan and gave it a quick attempt a few evenings later, this time with a line of 58 metres of net parallel with the shore and 18m at 90 degrees on the end.  Unfortunately while setting the nets before darkness we managed to flush 16 Snipe even though we were trying to be as quiet as possible.  There were only 2 birds left in the pool as we splashed through and again they missed.
We will probably give it one last attempt but set the nets in complete darkness early morning to see if that does the trick! 

You may remember that we had sighted a couple of Long-eared Owls roosting in the scrub at Portstewart Strand during the ringing attempts in October so we thought it would be worth a go at catching them.  We have had a bit of luck in the past at mist netting the birds in darkness at the University but the success rate, is of course, very low.
John and Dean gave it a first attempt at PSS last week and managed to attract three LEO's in the vicinity of the nets and one bird was very close to being trapped but unfortunately it veered to the side of the net.
We gave it another attempt last night with the net placement tweaked a little but to no avail.  We may have glimpsed a bird ghost behind us but that was about the height of it.
We did strike with two Redshanks, caught in a net placed along the mudflats in the low tide. 

A few weeks back I joined David and Phil from Copeland Bird Observatory to help run the first of this winters ringing training programme in Antrim.  We had a full quota of 5 trainees and had a pretty good morning, although we were restricted to around 3 hours.  The site has a fantastic supply of berries, a small orchard, a wild bird seed cover field and a couple of feeders, so plenty to work with.  There were a large number of Linnets, House Sparrow and Chaffinch feeding in the 'wild bird table' and we managed to catch a small fraction, including 20 Linnet and 2 House Sparrow.  The small orchard was rammed with Blackbirds on arrival but only 6 were caught.  We can only access the site after 08.30, so we miss the opportunity to get the nets up before first light but a catch of 72 new birds was still great!

CBO Winter Training - Antrim 19/11/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   6              1            
Blue Tit                      5              1
Bullfinch                    1   
Chaffinch                  11             2
Coal Tit                      2
Dunnock                     1          
Goldcrest                    2
Great Tit                    13            1           
House Sparrow           2
Lesser Redpoll           1
Linnet                        20
Long-tailed Tit            5
Robin                         2              1
Song Thrush              1           

Total                          72             6            

House Sparrow

There will be a further 4 training events from now to March, with one a month, then it's back to the Observatory for the 2017 season. 

Our ringing attempts for the rest of the year will probably be more of the same, although we may return to the university to try and catch some LEO at the traditional site.  When down and around Portstewart Strand in the dark we heard pretty big numbers of waders roosting on the far side so we may return to Grangemore for another attempt or two. 

The Blog has hit a new milestone in the last few days topping the 25k mark, sitting on over 25700 this evening.  The reading rate has certainly increased as time has gone on and the next 25k should hopefully come much faster!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Last Gasp Belgian Blackcap

Apologies for the lack of updates of late but things have been pretty quiet on the ringing front with the weather turning back to the norm with plenty of rain, strong northerly winds and cold and as I write the first flurries of snow are falling.  We haven't been totally idle and have squeezed in the final two visits to Portstewart Strand for the season and Ken has continued the winter ringing in his garden.

The penultimate visit to Portstewart Strand on the 9th of November was a very slow one and we were packed up and away by 10.  At the stage of packing up we were sitting on only 2 new birds with a Blackbird, Wren plus 5 retraps.  At the last gasp we got a nice final reward with a 1st year male Blackcap bearing a Belgian ring.  It had originally been ringed near Grembergen in northern Belgium on the 18th of September at a distance of around 532 miles.  Only our second foreign control for the site following last years Sedge Warbler, also from Belgium. 

Blackcap control from Belgium

The movements of Blackcaps are interesting ones and I would suggest it is fair to say that this bird is one of the increasing number of Blackcaps that migrate into Ireland for the winter.  These birds are believed to come from central Europe, particularly in Southern Germany in W├╝rttemberg-Baden and Bavaria and there are a number recoveries to back up this theory.  One such bird ringed in Northern Ireland in January was subsequently recovered in its breeding grounds in the Black Forest in southern Germany.  These birds pass through the European lowlands to winter in the UK and Ireland, with further recoveries of birds that have passed through Belgium, The Netherlands and England which have spent the winter in Ireland.  Check out the link below for a previous post on Sylvia Warblers in Ireland and some mapped recoveries.

The final visit of the season at Portstewart Strand wasn't much busier with 1 new bird each for Blackbird, Goldcrest, Robin, 8 retraps and a bit of boost by 13 new Linnets.  The only thing of real interest was a female type Common Scoter which is the 121st species for the year for the Bann Estuary. 


We packed up the site for winter and don't intend to be back until March 2017.  I'll update on the season total for the site in the coming weeks.
The NI Environment Agency have been in touch recently to inform me that they will be undertaking widespread habitat management at the site over the winter which will involve the removal of some large areas of the non-native invasive Sea Buckthorn.  It looks as though we are going to lose a few of our net rides and will be working in a very different site next year but it is sound conservation on their part and we will make it work!  

Ken has been busy in making some alterations to his garden ringing site and made a few net rides and generally just chopping and changing things.  The birds continue to visit his garden on masse to some of the c20 feeders on offer!
Ken hosted a couple of trainees on the 28th and 31st and produced some good catches of 44 birds and 67 birds respectively.  There were a few nice species in the mix with Treecreeper, Sparrowhawk and Woodpigeon. 

Sparrowhawk       (DJ)

Kens Garden Ringing Totals - 28th + 31st                                
Blackbird               5
Blue Tit                 18
Bullfinch                1
Coal Tit                 23
Chaffinch              20
Dunnock                 3
Goldcrest                1
Goldfinch                4
Great Tit                19           
Robin                     10
Sparrowhawk         1
Treecreeper            1
Woodpigeon           1
Wren                      4

Total                     111                      

At the moment we don't really have any proper plans for the winter but one site we plan to visit is our Castlerock Golf Club site which is again absolutely laden with millions of Sea Buckthorn berries.  The initial reccy showed there to be quite a number of Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch plus a mix of other birds including Blackbird and Fieldfare.  Once we get the net rides opened up we will hopefully get some good catches! 


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Copeland Bird Observatory 28-30th October

On Friday evening Richard, David, James, Laurence and I (Steve) were joined by 2 non-ringers Andy and Pat to begin our journey to Copeland Bird Observatory from Donaghadee Harbour. Of course we could not begin our trip without grabbing our usual pre-CBO feed from the local chippy – delicious!  The journey across on The Mermaid is much slower than on the Observatories RHIB but it did give us a chance to observe Turnstones, Cormorants/Shags, Red-breasted Merganser and many gulls off Big Copeland.  The weather was good, with a slight South Westerly breeze, we were fairly optimistic that the weather would remain calm and fine for the weekend ahead.
Yellow-browed Warbler   (DS)

On reaching the island at dusk, we set about getting the mist nets up in the usual net rides at mid garden, NW Garden, Heli 60’, Heli Extension, Thicket, Pond 60', Withy, Millennium Wood, the Ditch and a new net ride at Bluebell.  We also set the four Heligoland traps, the Crow trap and a few Potter and Spring traps.  The Potters were baited with sardines as they have been producing the goods with Water Rail recently.  It was well into darkness by the time we got finished so all nets were furled as we went, ready for a busy day on Saturday.  While erecting the last net c30 Greylag Geese came in to roost on Mew Island – and what a racket they made!

The next day Richard and I got up earlier than the others to prepare the nets and tape lures before dawn.  Being so late in the autumn, the main migrants passing through were thrushes with Blackbird, Song Thrush and Redwing.  The species that really caught our attention though were the Fieldfare.  Two of the Fieldfares wound up in mist nets and both, with beautiful speckled markings on their orangey throats.  This set the mood for the rest of the day. The first weekend of October 2015 saw us with high hopes of catching a Yellow-browed Warbler; a bird ringed less than 10 times before in Northern Ireland.  Being so late, the chances of getting one were slim but by 10am, I had a Yellow-browed Warbler in my hand and it was beautiful.  Lesser Redpoll numbers tend to dwindle around late October but we still had a few passing through, including a Goldpoll (a Redpoll with a golden crown in place of red) and a BTO Control (ringed somewhere else in the UK or Ireland).
Lesser Redpoll   (DS)
Song Thrush (top) and Redwing (bottom)   (DS)
Later that morning a flock of c120 Starling and a mixed flock of c150 Redwing, Fieldfare and Song Thrush passed over the island.  As well as the Yellow-browed Warbler we added another new species for the year in the form of two Wigeon amongst a flock of over 90 Teal off Mew Island. In the evening we caught a glimpse of a female Sparrowhawk but it made its way back towards big Copeland and a Buzzard was perched on the Mew Lighthouse.  A Short-eared Owl was spotted on Big Copeland although not by us unfortunately, as this would have been a nice addition to the CBO year list.
The next day the Yellow-browed Warbler was relocated in Bluebell Gully where it had been last heard on Saturday afternoon.  There were a few more Lesser Redpoll, Redwing, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Linnet and Blackbird on the move.  The Gully heligoland trap performed well producing a six Meadow Pipit but with the trap being unfinished it could have possibly caught more.  There were a good number of Grey Seal pups scattered around the island, snuggled in amongst the rocks with their mothers close by.  The glorious weather on Sunday, which felt like earlier September, produced a late migrant butterfly - a Red Admiral
Grey Seal Pup   (SF)

Ringing Totals for Copeland Bird Observatory 29-30th October
                                             New    Retraps  Controls
Blackbird                               3           5
Blackcap                               2
Chaffinch                              4
Dunnock                                         4
Fieldfare                               2
Goldcrest                             1            2
Goldfinch                              2
Linnet                                    1
Lesser Redpoll                    24                          1
Meadow Pipit                      6
Redwing                               14         1
Robin                                     1          8
Song Thrush                         5           1
Wren                                      3          4
Yellow-browed Warbler    1

Total                                     74        25             1 __      

As this was the last visit of the season we were set with a list of end of season chores.  After these were completed we were able to relax and wait for the boat to arrive.  We brought five lawnmowers ashore for servicing and it must have been quite a sight watching us lift the heavy machines off the boat and carrying them up on the steps of the harbour walls on our return to Donaghadee.
 The team ready for home
Fully packed boat home
As we left Copeland Bird Observatory behind us, the sun was dropping behind the mainland and brought a close on a very successful weekend and yet another brilliant season at Northern Ireland's only bird observatory.  Bring on next year as I'm sure everyone who has been to the island is desperately longing to return.
The Observatory building locked up and ready for winter
 Sunset over Donaghadee
Myself (Steve), Richard and David

Richard will be back at the weekend with an update about the goings on back at home over the last week. 

Steve Fyffe

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Portstewart Strand 22+25th October 2016

Well after complaining about the lack of warblers of late we were finally delivered a Chiffchaff, which are scarce enough around the ringing site and it is only the third ringed this year (also 3 ringed in 2015).  The migrating birds have continued in a similar theme over the last couple of visits on the 22nd and 25th with plenty of Blackbirds, Chaffinch, Skylarks, Song Thrushes, Teal, Whooper Swans etc.   The conditions were ideal for the ringing visits of Dean & I on Saturday and John & Dean this morning (Tuesday) although temperatures have dropped down close to freezing but still no frost! 


The catches are still slightly lower than usual with the finches still missing but decent numbers of Blackbird and Song Thrush did make up for that.  We also caught yet another Stonechat making it the twelve for the year and the Chiffchaff the third as mentioned above.  It looks like we have had another small arrival of Goldcrests and 5 more new birds were caught.  Redwings continue to pass through in small numbers and we had attracted c10 birds around the nets on Saturday morning but all managed to remain unringed. 


PSS Ringing Totals 22 + 25/10/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   7              2              
Blue Tit                     4              1
Chaffinch                  5              1 
Chiffchaff                  1
 Dunnock                   2             2
Goldcrest                   5
Goldfinch                  1
Great Tit                    1              5
Linnet                        2
Meadow Pipit            10
Robin                         4              2  
Song Thrush              7
Stonechat                   1
Wren                          2              5           

Total                        52             18            

On the very windy Sunday morning I was on site again around first light to do a little work to some of the net rides.  I was about for around 4 hours but noticed few birds other than some Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a Sparrowhawk.  I did get quite a bit done with the chainsaw despite the chain coming off twice (real pain if it jams) but I'll need another morning or two to finish off everything we've planned - more net rides that are protected from the wind in various directions plus lowering a few trees at the side of East Ride.

Steve was down home in Gortin, County Tyrone at the weekend and headed out to one of his woodland ringing sites.  The catch was pretty decent considering the site has no feeders to focus the birds into one area.  He did have a flock of c40 Redwing pass over mid-morning and they showed a bit of interest in the Latvian Redwing tape but only one bird hit the nets.

Treecreeper (SF)

Gortin Ringing Totals
                           New        Retrap
Blue Tit                 7
Coal Tit                 1
Goldcrest               2
Great Tit                                1
Long-tailed Tit       5
Redwing                1
Song Thrush          2
Treecreeper           1
Wren                      2

Total                    21              1            

Redwing (SF)

Friday, 21 October 2016

Thrushes plus Sandwich Tern and Storm Petrel Recoveries

It has been yet another quiet week in the Bann Estuary and we still can't manage to find a warbler of any form!  The week was split into two weather wise with windy and wet conditions from Saturday to Tuesday and warmer settled weather for the rest of the week, with the winds still generally from the east or south.  Wednesday marked the first day of northerlies for almost 3 weeks and it brought some new birds with it.

Redwing (JC)

The first half of the week was the quieter period with little obvious passage or grounded migrants with only a handful of Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Song Thrushes and singles of Redwing flying over early morning.  Goldcrest numbers have dropped off quite substantially with only one bird caught and only a few heard.  Things on the estuary have been a little better with lots of Golden PloverTeal and Wigeon, a constant stream of Whooper Swans flying over from Wednesday, six Greylag Geese, six Little Egrets (3 more than my previous patch max count), three Great-crested Grebes and only the second Little Grebe of the year.  Thursday seen a better movement of thrushes with larger numbers of Redwing and a new wave of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.  Skylark movement also picked up with flocks of up to 50 birds passing through on Thursday.  At least one Long-eared Owl is still frequenting the area and was spotted on two mornings pre 7am. 

Whooper Swans (JC)

Again we managed a couple of ringing sessions before work or on days off so generally shorter restricted sessions when working by ourselves or in twos.  A sprinkling of northern migrants has helped boost the numbers as the local bird numbers continue to struggle.  The first Redwing of the autumn is always nice and a further two Skylarks are welcome as they can be a challenge to catch! 


PSS Ringing Totals 15 - 20/10/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   6                
Blue Tit                      1  
Dunnock                    1              3
Goldcrest                   1
Goldfinch                                   1
Great Tit                    2              1
Linnet                        2
Meadow Pipit           18
Redwing                    4
Robin                        1               5  
Skylark                      2   
Song Thrush             2
Wren                         4           

Total                       44               10            

Skylark (JC)

The feeding station has been relocated as it has become very exposed since the leaves have fallen off the trees so the birds are steering clear when the nets are up.  The feeders have also been plagued with rats with up to three large brutes spotted at a time so a new location was certainly in order.


It has been a while since we have had a Sandwich Tern recovered in Africa but news came in of our 66th bird to the continent.  The bird was retrapped in La Somone, Senegal, which is our second bird from the site and 25th to Senegal.  The last one was controlled some 14 years ago so it has been quite a wait to get one from La Somone!
The bird was ringed by us as a pullus at Inch Island, Donegal on the 4th of June 2014 and re-caught by a South African (at least registered) ringer on the 6th of April of this year.  The straight line distance between the sites is 4585 km with the time lapsed of 672 days. 

Sandwich Tern recovery in La Somone, Senegal

As mentioned in the previous post we had news of another Storm Petrel controlled elsewhere in the British Isles and since then we've had another two reports in!
The first bird was controlled at Rhuba nan Sasan, Loch Ewe, Highland, Scotland on the 3rd of September 2016 at a distance of 305 km.  We had trapped the bird 38 days earlier on the 27th of July at Rinnagree Point, Portstewart. 

The other two birds are quite interesting and almost associated.  They represent an exchange from the Calf of Man Bird Observatory in both directions.  The first of these was a bird that we ringed at Rinnagree Point on the 19th of July this year which was controlled only 4 days later at the Observatory at the southern tip of the Isle of Man.  On that same night the Obs staff ringed another Storm Petrel which made its way to us nine days later, taking the reverse route as the first.
These are not the first Storm Petrels that we have exchanged with the Calf (174km straight line distance away) with two of ours going there and two of theirs coming our way.  Two of those birds were also caught within less 15 days apart so it is clearly a natural route for the birds through July and August. 

Edited note: I've only just noticed that the bird of ours trapped at the Calf was the same bird also caught at Bardsey Bird Observatory 19 days later. 

Storm Petrel Recoveries

The settled weather looks set to continue into the weekend so we will hopefully get another visit in and potentially carry out a bit of habitat management.
Our final visit to Copeland Bird Observatory for the season is pencilled in for next weekend so fingers crossed the weather is kind to us and we actually manage to get to the island and get some nice birds!

Friday, 14 October 2016

Early October

The spell of easterlies has continued into a second week and they've gradually got stronger and brought some wetter weather in the later half of this week.  In the quieter spells we managed another couple of visits to Portstewart Strand in what you would call 'ideal conditions'.
The hoped for rarities from the east didn't materialise and Northern Ireland managed just two Yellow-browned Warblers when there have probably been 1000+ across the UK and Ireland including 50 ringed at Cape Clear Bird Observatory at the far end of Ireland.  NI didn't miss out totally and notched up its first Red-flanked Bluetail and a nice Red-breasted Flycatcher - all four birds in County Down.
We on the other hand couldn't even muster a Blackcap or Chiffchaff but we have seen a continued run of thrushes.  The first few Redwings started passing through last Friday with further Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and the first Mistle Thrush I've seen at Portstewart Strand itself. Goldcrests continue to flit through with birds scattered everywhere through the scrub.  Other notable arrivals include more new Stonechats, another wave of Blue Tits (no doubt local), 3+ Great Creasted Grebes, flocks of Skylarks, the first Jack Snipe of the year and a Long-tailed Duck which I missed.


Ringing was by no means prolific but another 3 new Stonechats and a Skylark were nice catches. October was the best month for numbers last year so hopefully things will pick up with a return of some northerlies.


PSS Ringing Totals 07 - 11/10/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                    6             2
Blue Tit                      7    
Bullfinch                    1
Chaffinch                   3                  
Dunnock                                    2
Goldcrest                   4    
Goldfinch                   5              3
Great Tit                    4               3
Meadow Pipit            3
Reed Bunting            1
Robin                         1               2
Skylark                      1       
Song Thrush             4
Stonechat                  3               1
Wren                         2               1              

Total                       45               14             

Song Thrush

Last week Ken hosted Siobhan in his garden for another training session.  Conditions were good and the number of birds visiting the feeders continue to build.  Chaffinch, as usual, were top of the bill with 13 new birds while Coals Tits were the most numerous species processed with 18.

Kens Garden 06/10/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blue Tit                       7            4    
Chaffinch                   13           3        
Coal Tit                      9             9
Dunnock                    1              1
Goldcrest                   2    
Goldfinch                   8
Great Tit                    8              6
Robin                         4              2
Wren                         4                          

Total                       56              25             

Unfortunately our weekend trip to Copeland Bird Observatory has been canceled due to the weather but we will hopefully get rescheduled for a couple of weeks time.  As such, the prospects for weekend ringing look limited to a wind restricted short window on Saturday morning but we may give it a go.

We've had word of another Storm Petrel recovery but I'll update on that next time.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

1st of October 2016

Finally, after waiting for what seems like months, we got our first day of northerly winds which were ideal for ringing.  We have had pretty constant southerlies for much of the autumn which doesn't really do us any favours in the centre of the north coast of NI and we tend to have more luck from the north!  John, Dean and I were on site pre dawn and quickly set about getting the nets up covering all our usual net rides minus the end 60 metres of west ride.  We have abandoned this stretch of nets since the summer as they haven't been catching birds.


It was a slow start with thick cloud so it took a couple of hours before the birds, particularly in the open, got moving.  The morning started off with a nice surprise when I flushed two Long-eared Owls from the end of East Ride which appear to have been roosting in the vicinity for the past week following sightings from the local walkers.  Thrushes were also notable after first light with lots of freshly arrived Blackbirds and a few Song Thrushes chittering.  Finch numbers have increased with more Chaffinch and Bullfinch in the scrub and bigger numbers of Linnet and Goldfinch roving around the open dunes once the sun got up plus the first two Lesser Redpolls of the autumn.  Other arrivals included another small wave of Goldcrests, the first movement of Skylark (c40), yet more Meadow Pipits, 3/4 Reed Bunting, five new Stonechats and singles of Blackcap, Sparrowhawk and Wheatear.      


The ringing didn't produce a big catch given the numbers of birds about but there was a nice spread of 13 species including 3 new Stonechat, another Blackcap and a Reed Bunting.  The number of new Blue Tits this year is out of the norm but I suspect it is just the earlier feeding station attracting them in and keeping them there. 

PSS Ringing Totals 01/10/2016     
                                New      Retrap
Blackcap                    1          
Blue Tit                       3              
Bullfinch                     1
Chaffinch                   1                            
Dunnock                    3            
Goldcrest                   3              1
Goldfinch                   3
Great Tit                    1              1
Linnet                        2
Reed Bunting            1
Robin                         2              1
Stonechat                  3                
Wren                         2               2             

Total                       26               5             

A quick wind restricted attempt last week produced only a few birds but it did include the first Coal Tit of the autumn!  As we stand at the moment we are c190 new birds down at Portstewart Strand from the same point last year!

Coal Tit

One of the Storm Petrels we ringed on the 19th of July this year wound up in another mist net and this time it is a new destination for us - Bardsey Bird Observatory.  This represents only our second Storm Petrel to/from Wales following one of ours caught at Porth Iago, Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd in 2013 which is just across from Bardsey Island on the Welsh mainland.       
The bird was caught at Bardsey BO 16 days after ringing at a distance of 298km. 

You can follow regular updates from Bardsey Bird Observatory on their blog Bardsey's Wildlife @ or click on the link at the side. 

Storm Petrel recovery to Bardsey Bird Observatory

The forecast over the next week or so seems to be constant south-easterlies which for everyone else is great news and it might be that they will blow something our way given the strength and longevity of the winds!  A Yellow-browed Warbler seems to be on the cards for someone in Northern Ireland in the coming week given the numbers in Britain at the moment, particularly the observatories in the north Irish Sea.   

Monday, 3 October 2016

Cape Clear Bird Observatory 22-25 September

This weekend seen myself (Dean) and another trainee from the North, David S, head down to Cape Clear Bird Observatory to help trial the new bird ringing course.  After a rather long but fun filled drive from the north (6.5 hours), David and myself set off from the lovely seaside town of Baltimore for Cape Clear at around 18:00.  As we made our way out of the sheltered bay composed of a scattering of small islands and islets we were hit by strong south westerly winds.  Immediately our quick pint and a pizza at Baltimore didn’t seem like such a good idea as the ferry was met by the rather daunting swell.  Our sea legs faired however leaving us to enjoy a superb journey from Baltimore.  On route we were blessed with sightings of numerous Gannets, Black-headed Gulls and a lovely raft of around 100 Kittiwakes just off the North end of the island.  Slowly but surely we powered into Cape’s waters, eventually reaching a small islet located along the north west stretch of the island aptly named “Bird Island”.  As we approached we realised the islet was covered in Cormorant, Shag and a small number of Great black-backed Gulls.  Then as I was making some brief counts, something small and pale floating on the surface of the water caught my eye.  After raising my bins I was surprised to see a Grey Phalarope floating between the now reserved bouts of swell, David and I were delighted!  A new lifer for us both and we hadn’t even landed on the island yet, a sign of great things to come we thought! 

We landed in North harbour at around 19:00 and were met off the boat by Sam Bayley the current Wildlife Officer at Cape Clear Bird Observatory who, after helping us lug our kit to the observatory building, gave us a bit of a tour and a brief introduction to the island and the other bird ringers involved in the course.  We were both pretty wrecked from the long Diet Coke fuelled journey so after the evening log and a quick hot toddy we settled down for an early night to try and re-charge the batteries for the excitement ahead.

Goldcrest sheltering from the wind (DJ)

The next morning we split up into two groups and set off to unfurl the nets at two different sites on the island by 06:00am. Things were rather breezy as we arrived, though better than predicted, which enabled us to catch a small number of Goldcrest, Blackbird and Dunnock amongst others. We also made an attempt at catching some Meadow Pipit which were fluttering in small numbers around the site but the weather didn't work with us.  Disappointingly the winds then picked up leading us to furl the nets and leave the site a few hours earlier than planned.  We caught up with the other group by an area called the Nordy Wood, a lush area of mixed native woodland species which were planted there a number of years ago by another group of Northerners.  The other group faired roughly the same as us though they were lucky enough to catch the only Blackcap and Song Thrush of the weekend as well as a new Chiffchaff.  As we were getting ready to pack up at this site we got the news of a juvenile Common Rosefinch which was spotted in a Sycamore tree not far from where we had set up base.  David and I couldn’t pass up the chance for bagging another lifer so we set out to see if we could catch a glimpse, unfortunately we dipped!

Chiffchaff (DS)

The south westerly gales battered on through the afternoon squandering any attempts to get out ringing again.  Instead we equipped ourselves with hiking boots and numerous choccy biscuits and headed out to the south west part of the island for a spot of sea watching, something Cape Clear is reputed for being one of the best places in Europe for.  Scopes were shaky in the oncoming winds but we did manage to get some counting done.  The highlight during our watch had to be a lone Sooty Shearwater gliding and circling effortlessly above the intimidating waves.  We spent a good hour counting before we decided of head back via the East bog ringing site and the lake where we seen Chough, Dabchick, Stonechat and a nice flock of Starling (No Rose-coloured Starling however which had been seen a number of days previous).

Spotted Flycatcher (older pic of adult from CBO)

Again Saturday’s weather was less than favorable composing of more strong winds and heavy showers.  Therefore we opted for a bit of a lie in (which was well needed after playing Bill Oddies bird race game till near 2 in the morning) followed by a morning of presentations from Sam about his birding adventures around the world along with a few bird ageing quizzes to get the brain juices flowing.  After a late lunch we then headed to South Harbour where we had received a report of a small stranding of Portuguese Man O War.  We counted a total of around 60 of these colonial Siphoniphores the most I have ever seen in one wreck.  Shortly after we headed back out to set up the nets at an area called Cotters Garden situated behind the islands pub.  Here we caught some new Goldcrests, a few Blue Tits and the star of the show a super juvenile Spotted Flycatcher.  Things were looking good then out of nowhere the rain started pelting it down leading to us once again having to pack up the nets.  All was not lost however as after the rains had passed we had a go at Woosh netting baited with bread and sausages (these darn birds eat better than I do).  Within seconds of baiting the trap we caught a smashing 1st winter Herring Gull, shortly followed by a Hooded Crow.  A new ringing tick for our trainer and tutor Jodie Crane, the first she has had in two years!

Hooded Crow (DJ)

Sunday morning’s weather followed a similar trend to the rest of the weekend however we did get the nets up briefly in both the Nordy Wood and Cotters sites.  After we processed a few birds which included some new Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  David and I then got a brief insight into Potter trapping on the isle before we embarked once again on the gruelling travel north.

Willow Warbler (DJ)

Blue Tit (DS)
All and all our weekend on Cape Clear was an extremely interesting and enjoyable one, despite the rubbish weather.  I'll definitely be heading down to this beautiful island again for a spot of birding and it possible another one of the Observatories ringing courses! 

Dean Jones

Cape Clear Ringing List 22-25 September

                                  New            Retrap
Blackbird                     4                   1
Blackcap                     1
Blue Tit                      12                 4
Chiffchaff                    3                  1
Dunnock                     6                  2
Goldcrest                   27                 6
Goldfinch                     1
Great Tit                      1
Herring Gull                 1
Hooded Crow              1
Robin                          2
Song Thrush               1
Spotted Flycatcher     1
Willow Warbler           4                   1
Wren                          4                   1

Totals                       69                  16

Cape Clear Sighting List

Little Grebe
Manx Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Grey Heron
Black Guillemot
Peregrine Falcon
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Grey Phalarope
Rock Dove
Song Thrush
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Willow Warbler
Reed Warbler
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied/White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Spotted Flycatcher
Hooded Crow
Reed Bunting
Common Rosefinch

As of this year Cape Clear Bird Observatory is once again open to visitors to come and stay and they are always very keen for ringers to visit.  For more information on the Obs and how to visit check out the BirdWatch Ireland page -

For up to date sightings at Cape Clear you can follow the Obs on Twitter @
or all Ireland sightings at -