Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Slow start to the year

Apologies for the lack of updates but things have been rather quiet up north.  Snow, rain and a bit of wind have limited our activities but we haven't been totally idle.

Castlerock has still been the focus of our attentions although we have only visited twice in the past three weeks.  The first visit was back on the 28th of December and the second on the 4th of January.  The flocks of birds are still present feeding on the seemingly endless Sea Buckthorn berries with the exception of the Chaffinches which appear to have moved on.


The quantity of birds trapped still isn't huge but there have been some nice captures with another wintering Blackcap, a Fieldfare and 9 new Bullfinches! 


Castlerock Golf Club 28/12/2016+04/01/2017  
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                  1              1          

Blackcap                  1
Bullfinch                   9              2
Dunnock                                   1
Fieldfare                   1
Greenfinch              11
Song Thrush            1          

Wren                         1              1 
Total                         25            5            


On Sunday the 8th John, Dean and I visited a few of the local streams to catch some of the local river species.  I always find river ringing quite entertaining and it didn't take long before out first couple of Dippers appeared.  They were quite crafty and both managed to slip under the net but were caught on their return pass downstream with a third bird, which was a retrap, five minutes later.  We moved on to our next spot only around 1 mile upstream and caught another new dipper with it's partner bouncing from the nets.  We hadn't seen any of the other river species so we moved to a new stream where it connects to the River Bann.  This spot has been good for Kingfishers in the past and again we did see a Kingfisher continually return to sit at the mouth of the stream but it did venture the extra ten metres to the net.  We added another two Dippers giving us a total of five new birds and the retrap, first caught in December 2015. 

One of the 20+ Dipper boxes dotted around the streams surrounding Coleraine

Steve had his last ringing session of 2016 down home at his Drumlegh site also on the 28th of December.  Blue Tits dominated the catch with 8 new birds and the best of the bunch was a smart male Goldcrest. 


Castlerock Golf Club 28/12/2016  
                                New      Retrap
Blue Tit                     8              1                          
Chaffinch                  5              

Coal Tit                     1      
Goldcrest                  1      
Goldfinch                  1
Great Tit                    4   

Total                         20            1            

With the turn of the year the Patchwork Challenge starts up once again and so begins the challenge to better the previous year.  I did this in 2016 with a total of 123 species, up 10 species on the previous year.  I failed to pick up any rarities but Black Tern, Garganey and Spotted Redshank were patch ticks and are nice records for Northern Ireland.  This year I'm up to 60 species so far and hoping for a good spring.  I will also be taking on Copeland Bird Observatory as a second patch and hope to better my total of 77 species in 2016. 

We still need to finish off the final group totals for the year and I should hopefully have those by the weekend.  We also have news of an Oystercatcher than has wound up in Dublin Bay and I will post the details next time out.  

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bann Estuary 2016 Totals

As the regular readers will be aware, the focus of our ringing (and birding) activities are focused on the Bann Estuary spread across three main sites.  The majority of the effort is focused on Portstewart Strand through spring, summer and autumn, Castlerock over the winter period and Grangemore for Sand Martins, waders and marsh/reedbed birds.  2016 was the first year that we really extended our activities beyond Portstewart Strand and this is represented in the greater number of species caught this year, although we failed to pick up any rare/scarce passerines.
  The total number of new birds was boosted by the number of hirundines but it was a pretty poor breeding season at Portstewart Strand with 243 less new birds caught at the site. Some species had a very poor year including, Blackcaps - down 235%, Bullfinches - down 366%, Lesser Redpoll - down 453% (no local breeders this year), Reed Bunting - down 225% and Willow Warbler down - 421%.    Some species faired a little better, including Blue Tit, Goldcrest and Stonechat, although the Blue Tit increase is associated with the addition of feeders and the migrating number of Goldcrests was higher.  Not including the waders, there were a few new species captured for the site including House Sparrow, Kingfisher, Wheatear and Whitethroat.  The biggest surprise of the year was the Curlew Sandpiper which was caught amongst our first roost catch.

Controls/recoveries were pretty thin on the ground but the best of the bunch were a Portuguese Sand Martin, a Belgian Blackcap and Sedge Warblers from Dorset and Devon.      

 Hopefully the local breeders can recover for next year!

I have posted the totals from the Bann Estuary below with the Portstewart Strand totals in brackets.  I will follow up with the full group totals in the coming weeks once all data has been updated/submitted.

Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin

Species  NewRetrapControlTotal
Bar-tailed Godwit22
Blackbird34 (27) 16 (15) 50 (42)
Blackcap16 (14) 1 (1) 17 (15)
Black-headed Gull11
Black-tailed Godwit33
Blue Tit50 (27)13 (10) 63 (37)
Bullfinch19 (9) 7 (6) 26 (15)
Chaffinch 40 (22)3 (3) 43 (25)
Chiffchaff3 (3) 3 (3)
Coal Tit1 (1) 1 (1)
Curlew Sandpiper11
Dunnock   23 (19) 31 (31) 54 (50)
Goldcrest 24 (23) 10 (10) 34 (33)
Goldfinch84 (83)14 (14)98 (97)
Grasshopper Warbler2 (1)2 (1)
Great Tit10 (10)10 (10)20 (20)
House Sparrow11
Lesser Redpoll14 (13)5 (5)19 (18)
Linnet45 (43)3 (3)48 (46)
Meadow Pipit70 (68)3 (3)73 (71)
Pied Wagtail1 (1)1 (1)
Redshank25 (2)25 (2)
Redwing8 (8)8 (8)
Reed Bunting15 (8)1 (1)16 (9)
Robin40 (32)32 (28)72 (60)
Sand Martin101133117
Sedge Warbler22 (3)3 (1)227 (4)
Skylark4 (4)4 (4)
Song Thrush26 (18)4 (4)30 (22)
Sparrowhawk1 (1)1 (1)
Starling1 (1)1 (1)
Stonechat16 (12)1 (1)17 (13)
Wheatear1 (1)1 (1)
Whitethroat3 (3)3 (3)
Willow Warbler15 (14)5 (5)20 (19)
Wren26 (22)15 (14)41 (36)
Total 884 (493) 189 (164) 6 (1) 1079(658)
    44 Species (30)  

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Festive Season

The fine settled conditions on the North Coast have finally succumb to the expected wet and windy weather which look set to continue over the Christmas period with a couple of trans-Atlantic storms heading our way.  This will no doubt keep us in doors consuming mince pies and catching up on our paper work but we still hope to get in a couple more sessions before the years end.

Last Sunday John and I headed up to Antrim to host the second Copeland Bird Observatory ringing training event of the winter.  We were very short on numbers with just ourselves so we were limited to 3 trainees.  We arrived on site for 9am and put up 5 nets in the usual spots in what were very ideal conditions, if perhaps a little mild (but we can't complain about that in December).
We were once again amazed by the masses of Blackbirds spread throughout the site, which surely topped the 100 mark and no doubt many more.  The nets in the mini orchard started to produce the goods at once and through the morning we had caught an impressive 21 new Blackbirds and a retrap from the previous winter.  Redwings were numerous on the site but only a single bird was caught. The remaining flock of c70 birds were busy feeding on a tall Contoneaster trees with c20 Blackbirds and c30 Chaffinches, well away from the nets.


We again tried a single net in the wild bird cover field which has now been cut but there were still c40 Linnets around and plenty of seeds.  The net proved unproductive with just a single Chaffinch and Linnet caught.  The estate manager had let us know that the feeders have been relatively quiet over the past few weeks in the calm mild weather and this was again the case today, catching only c20 birds.  All in all it was a good small session and the highlight was the exceptional catch of Blackbirds, that, with any luck, will produce some recoveries when they disperse.

Antrim Ringing Totals 18/12/2016  
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                  21            1                         
Blue Tit                     4              2
Coal Tit                     2              1

Chaffinch                  9              
Dunnock                   1            
Great Tit                    6               3

Redwing                    1
Robin                        1
Wren                         1                    

Total                        46             7            

Coal Tit  

There is still a huge quantity of fruit, seeds and berries all across the site so it should continue to produce the birds during the next three visits in January, February and March.  It would be a Waxwing paradise if they can just happen to stumble across it!  

Back on the 5th of December Ken did a bit of garden ringing with Tyrone and had a great catch with over 100 birds processed of 13 species.  The nets were opened at 08.30 in fine conditions and they finished up around lunch time.  Chaffinches were the most numerous species caught with 30 birds processed.  There was another new Treecreeper which are always a fantastic little bird to catch.

The numbers should continue to swell as winter takes grip and the plentiful wild food begins to deplete.  We plan to have our traditional ringing session in Kens garden over the festive period, if the weather allows it, for a good catch up and a final few birds for the year.

Dunnock           (JC)

Kens Garden 05/12/2016       
Blackbird                  1                          
Blue Tit                    24              
Bullfinch                   1
Chaffinch                 30            

Coal Tit                    10
Dunnock                   2            
Goldfinch                  4

Great Tit                   17 
Greenfinch                1
Long-tailed Tit           3
Robin                        6             
Treecreeper               1

Wren                         1       

Total                       101               

On Saturday the 10th I had been down around the estuary 'working the patch' and visited Castlerock to see what was about.  The scrub was humming with lots of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and c15 Fieldfare.  The other birds seemed to be roving in large flocks together with Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Reed Bunting.  It was surely a missed opportunity for ringing but it looked too cold out the window first thing so I stayed in bed!  


The following day John and I went for an early morning visit to the scrub in cold and fairly breezy conditions and invited along David who was interested to see bird ringing in action .  The plentiful thrushes were very noticeable around first light as they chacked and chattered and the first bird in the nets was only our second Fieldfare on the North Coast in the past 5 years.  We picked up a few more birds in the first couple of hours including 3 more Song Thrushes but the wind got up and things went very quiet.  The total of 11 new birds was very low considering the big numbers present but they should hopefully hang around for a few months yet.  David was still very impressed and loved the opportunity of seeing the birds at close quarters.  

Castlerock Golf Club 11/12/2016  
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                  1                          
Chaffinch                  2              
Dunnock                   2            
Fieldfare                   1
Greenfinch                1
Robin                        1              1
Song Thrush             3           

Total                        11             1            


Like the other side of the estuary at Portstewart Strand, the NI Environment Agency will be moving in to remove the invasive Sea Buckthorn across the area, although we think our ringing area will be spared the chainsaw.  We are supportive of such habitat management but are hopeful the birds will be left a few small areas to breed and feed in winter.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and we will back at that start of January with an update of our recent activities (if the weather allows it) and the final totals for the year.

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!