Friday, 19 August 2016

Failed Swallow Roost Catch, a few Storm Petrels and a new Species!

Last night we went ahead with our plan of trying out the first Swallow roost catch of the year followed up by a Storm Petrel ringing session.  Again it was John, Ken, Dineka and myself present.  The weather was an ideal with a warm, dry, calm and overcast evening.  We opted to use the University River Site for the roost catch where we have had success in the past.  The very large tide at the moment meant that the reed bed was flooded so we stuck to the willows.  There has been a lot of growth in the colonising trees over the past year and the site is in need of a bit of TLC (a blitzing with a chainsaw!).

We had the nets open and tapes on from around 19.00 but we failed to attract any more than 5 Swallows at a time and they were probably the same birds returning every so often.  In the end we caught a single Blue Tit, a Chiffchaff and zero Swallows.  We didn't do much better last year with the biggest catch of 25 birds and only c45 birds ringed over 3 attempts.  We plan to trial a new reedbed site in 2/3 weeks to see if we have any more luck.  Our best night in 2014 attracted c6000 Swallows with a catch of 125 birds, with the tapes switched off quickly with sagging nets. 


After the disappointment we headed down to Rinnagree Point hoping for a few more birds.  We were set up for 10pm and had to wait around an hour for the first bird to hit the nets.  We only added a further three Storm Petrels before we packed up around 00.30.
A feature of the night, and generally for the end of August, was the movement of waders along the coast with a number of Redshank, Oystercatcher, a Common Sandpiper and potentially a few Turnstones knocking about.  We hit lucky when a couple of Redshanks flew into the net, although being a small mesh net, only one stuck.  Redshank is a new species for us and Dineka was lucky enough to ring it having driven from Donegal for very few birds!

As mentioned in the last post, Gary almost got a full ring read on a Sandwich Tern in Portrush when out hunting for ringed gulls.  Fortunately the numbers clinched were enough to determine when and where the bird was ringed.  It was ringed way back on the 16th of July 1993 as a nestling 61 miles away at Ogilby Island, Strangford Lough, County Down.  This is the oldest Sandwich Tern we have recorded at 23 years and 26 days, beating our previous oldest birds of 20 years, 10 months and 5 days and 20 years, 4 months and 13 days.  That would mean the bird has undertaken around 46 migrations, perhaps as far as South Africa!   
It is also the second time we have traded a bird with Ogilby Island following the recovery of a dead Sandwich Tern at our Inch breeding colony six years after it had ringed at Ogilby back in 1988 - our only Sandwich Tern control (which is no surprise as we only ring pulli). 

Sandwich Tern movement

For more information on gulls and ring reading in Northern Ireland, check out Gary's blog -

I'm off to Venice next week but I'll hopefully be back in action next weekend and with any luck the others will find a weather window and get out in between then.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

PSS Ringing + Blawit and BHG Recoveries

John, Dineka and I were out again on Sunday morning in what were forecast to be perfect conditions.  We were on site for around 06.15 and set the usual nets minus the yet to be cleared West Ride.  Unfortunately the forecast proved wrong and we were hit with a prolonged spell of misty rain.  We waited it out for over an hour as the forecast maintained there would be no rain and took down a few of the furthest nets.
There were a few new birds about in the bushes with a couple of calling Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Goldcrest and Blackbird.  Other birds around included the first arrival of Snipe with c25 feeding on the open mudflats, a single Great Crested Grebe and a flock c30 SwallowsBlackcaps were again conspicuous in their absence with no birds heard or seen for a few weeks now.  At this time of year we would expect to catch 4/5 birds per session so it may hint at a poor breeding year.  Any Blackcaps we catch from now to December are quite possibly migrants from elsewhere.  The few Willow Warblers we heard today are likely to be the last of the year.       


Despite the rain stopping play we managed to catch a nice mixed bag of birds, if not numbers and it was clear that there were some birds moving with the capture of our second Whitethroat for the year and site (they don't breed at PSS), plus a juvenile Stonechat and Sedge Warbler.  We also managed a new ringing tick for the site in the form of a Pied Wagtail.  There are usually a few pairs around the estuary although they don't often venture near the nets.  We also get autumn movements of White Wagtails but they tend to stick to the mudflats.  The feeders failed to attract many birds but they are still being heavily used so I'll put that one down to the weather. 

Portstewart Strand 14/08/2016                                     
                                       New     Retraps
Bullfinch                          1
Dunnock                          1
Goldfinch                         5           
Lesser Redpoll                                 2
Meadow Pipit                   1
Pied Wagtail                     1
Reed Bunting                   1
Robin                                1                        

Sedge Warbler                  1
Song Thrush                      2
Stonechat                          1
Whitethroat                       1
Wren                                 1

Total                                17             2        

Pied Wagtail

Gary from the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull survey has been out ring reading on the North Coast and has picked up the first mover from the Black-headed Gull chicks ringed at Inch this year.  Surprisingly it was one of the 39 birds ringed on the 8th of June without a colour ring that he spotted at the East Strand, Portrush (in our broader local patch); 34 miles from Inch.
With 122 birds now bearing colour rings we are expecting a number of recoveries and it will hopefully paint a better picture of the winter movements of these birds.  Whilst out, Gary also picked up the returning BHG from Finland at Christie Park, Coleraine plus a partial ring read on a Sandwich Tern - DK6678#  Ring a bell to anyone?

Black-headed Gull movement

The ringing details of the latest colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit have arrived and it is the second bird we have picked up from Charente Maritime, Moëze (A) on the west coast of France, roughly 30km south of La Rochelle. 
It was ringed on the 7th of March 2009 as a 2+ year female and sighted on the Bann Estuary 2613 days later at a distance of 686 miles.  The bird was re-sighted three times around the Moëze area  - 24/08/2010, 08/03/3012 and 07/12/2012.  It was also sighted in Conyer, Kent (B) in England on the 14th of October 2011 and located exactly a month later on the north coast of France near Pontorson (C), 214 miles away.     

Colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit Movement

Details of the last bird from Moëze are available from the post on the 12th of May 2015 -

We plan to have our first go at catching roosting Swallows this Thursday so hopefully there are birds about.  Once we finish up with the Swallows we plan to head to Rinnagree for another Storm Petrel session.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Last Sunday morning I headed down to Portstewart Strand, to prep the site for the coming autumn season.  We had done a bit of 'whacking' a month ago or so, but there had been plenty more growth in this period, so the net rides were in need of a little TLC.  I brought a strimmer plus a blade head, so I was able to blitz the net rides into good condition and hopefully they won't need any further work until next summer.  I didn't finish the western net rides but hope to do those soon.

Lesser Redpoll

I also took the opportunity to set up a feeding station around the 'East Ride' net run.  We first used feeders at the site this spring from April-May and they worked well to attract Goldfinch and Linnets but they should be more prolific through the autumn.... if we can keep them topped up.  I have scrapped feeding in the garden and will focus solely on Portstewart Strand - the cost of running two feeding stations, the chance of oddities at PSS, plus the hundreds of tits in the garden make the decision an easy one.  I had a couple of nets open while on site catching only a handful of birds - included in the totals below.   

'East Ride'

Yesterday morning (Saturday) presented the first opportunity to ring at the site with John, Dineka and myself present.  We arrived on site at 06.30 in calm, sunny conditions and set up the Gorse Nets, East Ride, the first 24m of WR plus a new 12m net by the feeders.  It was clear to see that the feeding station is having the desired effect with near empty feeders and plenty of droppings.

The new feeding station

The catch was decent but we were very dependant on the feeders which caught the majority of the 15 Goldfinches and 6 Lesser Redpolls plus the 2 ChaffinchReed Bunting and Great Tit.  All but one of the Goldfinches and Lesser Redpolls were juveniles.  There were still a couple of singing Willow Warblers about but only one juvenile was caught plus a complete absence of Blackcaps.  The feeding station should only get better over the next few months and hopefully attract a few more species.   
The clouds started to gather around 10am, so we packed up and it was a wise choice as the heavens opened just as we were finishing off. 

Portstewart Strand 06/08/2016 (+ 3(3) from 31/07/2016)                                      
                                       New     Retraps

Blue Tit                                            1     
Bullfinch                          4
Chaffinch                         2
Dunnock                          1
Goldcrest                         1
Goldfinch                        14             1
Great Tit                           1
Lesser Redpoll                 5              1
Linnet                               1
Meadow Pipit                   1
Reed Bunting                   1
Robin                                3             2            
Willow Warbler                  1
Wren                                 2

Total                                37             5        


News has come in about one of the colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits sighted in the Bann Estuary back at the start of May.  As suspected the bird was indeed Portuguese having been ringed at Alhos Vedros (South Tank), Tagus Estuary, Setúbal, Portugal on the 12th of November 2008 as an adult female.  The bird was subsequently recorded 18 times over the next five winters between October and mid-March in and around the Tagus estuary.  She was also recorded on the way north last Spring on the 17th of April at Bovenkerkerpolder, Amstelveen, Noord Holland, Netherlands.
The other CR Black-tailed Godwit has been confirmed as a French bird but exact details have not been received as yet.

Black-tailed Godwit recovery

John, Jeff and Dineka were out again on Monday night catching Storm Petrels at Rinnagree Point.  The conditions were ideal but it was quite yet again with 9 new birds and a single British controlled bird.  The birds disappeared before 1am with the net taken down half an hour later.  Overall numbers caught are down but the first few weeks of August can still produce catches of over 50 birds, so we plan to get 3/4 more attempts in before the month is out. 

Storm Petrel

Steve was out ringing in his garden last Sunday and caught a nice mixed bag of species.  As of this week he is now a married man so the shackles are on!

Steve's Garden 31/07/2016                                      
                                       New     Retraps
Coal Tit                                           1
Chaffinch                          1
Dunnock                           1
Great Tit                            2
Greenfinch                        1   
House Sparrow                 5    
Robin                                1
Willow Warbler                 1    
Wren                                 1     

Total                                13            1          


Dodgy phone scoped Common Sandpiper
Some of the 115+ Sandwich Terns roosting in the estuary with at least 7 bearing rings

Saturday, 30 July 2016

End Of The Breeding Season

The new improved system at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) now means that there is a rapid turn around of controls/recoveries within the UK and Ireland but only if the ringer at the other end has submitted their data.  This has resulted in us receiving the details of the two controlled British Sedge Warblers in less than a week.
The first bird was originally ringed at South Milton Ley Wetland Reserve, Devon, on the south coast of England.  It was caught on the 8th of August 2015 on its first migration south and recovered by us 339 days later.  The straight line distance between the sites is 579 km. 
The second bird was first trapped at Squire's Down, Dorset, again in the south of England.  It too was on its first migration south, trapped on the 21st of August 2015 and caught by us 330 days later.  This bird travelled a similar straight line distance of 551 km.  This is the second Sedge Warbler that we have controlled from Squire's Down following a bird trapped at the University in 2013. 

Sedge Warbler controls

On Wednesday night John, Steve and Dineka were out once again to target Storm Petrels at Rinnagree Point.  Conditions were decent with a bit of cloud cover and light winds although it was much colder than of late.  The first bird was caught just before 23.30 and the final bird at 01.10 before packing up around 01.30.  A total of seven new birds were trapped.

Storm Petrel

This morning I paid the Grangemore Sand Martin colony a quick follow up visit to pick up a few of the youngsters from the second brood.  There was rain in the forecast for around 9.30 and it was a little breezy so I covered only the Sand Martin bank.  There were still 35/40 birds floating about above the colony so I thought a decent catch could be on the cards.  In the end I managed only five new birds (only two juveniles) which were caught as I put up the nets.  The following two net rounds produced nothing but a single Linnet so I packed up and left the site before 9.  On the way out I noticed 4/5 Swallows flying through the barns in the abandoned farm, so I put up a 3 metre net in front of a door way and caught a single bird.  The torrential rain had started by this point but thankfully the net was sheltered inside the barn.   


The first season at the Grangemore Sand Martin colony has been a good one with a total of 91 new birds, 13 retraps and 3 controls.  The proper control was the bird bearing the Portuguese ring plus the two local movements from the Macfin colony.  The Grangemore site as a whole has shown it's potential and although today was the final visit of the year, we will certainly back early next summer targeting the breeding birds. 

Steve had a good evening catch down in his garden in County Tyrone with 28 House Sparrows and 2 Great Tits.  The birds were mist netted around feeders in ideal conditions.  The majority of the House Sparrows caught were juveniles hinting at a good breeding year in the local population. 

House Sparrows

As of today I have processed 448 new birds and 179 retraps/controls of 39 species this year.  The total is quite a bit behind last years which stood at 789 new birds and 236 retraps/controls on the same date.  We did start ringing at the new Sand Martin colony which added 91 more new birds.  The main reasons for the decline is the lack of ringing in my garden in the early winter plus we have been less active at Portstewart Strand.  I don't have the others totals at hand so we will have to wait for the end of year totals! 

On a final note, the blog has now surpassed 9000 views which has been really boosted over the past week from a very strange source.  There have been over 1100 views coming from Russia in the past week with a peak of 389 views on Friday.  The year or so before this has only produced 600+ views from Russia so I'm really not sure why now??  Maybe somebody reading can let me know!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Triple S - Sand Martins, Storm Petrels and Sedge Warblers

On Tuesday evening John, Ken, Geoff and I had another attempt at catching Storm Petrels in near perfect conditions at Rinnagree Point.

It was the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures up to 30°C and remained around 20°C after midnight.  The hot day had brewed up some huge thunder storms and we were well entertained with a raging storm out to sea which persisted throughout the two and half hours we were there.  The strikes were constant with two or three strikes every few seconds but thankfully they were far enough away to avoid any rain.

Storm Petrel

The birds appeared pretty quickly and steady but slowed after 12.30am.  The first creature in the net was a Pipistrelle bat species which appear around the nets regularly and we catch one/two every year.  There were far fewer birds around compared to the last visit but I would suggest the catching rate was much higher with perhaps every 7 out of every 10 birds sticking in the nets.  We packed up at 01.15 and headed for home.  We caught a total of 23 new birds and retrapped two birds from our previous visit on Friday. 

One of the newly birds ringed was a fast mover and was caught the following night by Declan in Sheepland Harbour, Ardglass, County Down, a straight line distance of 123 km or a minimum of 181 km following the coast.  This is the fifteenth bird we have traded with Declan from Sheepland (plus a few more from his West Coast expeditions to Donegal and Mayo where 1000 birds in one night is not unheard of), eight of ours recovered there and seven of his birds caught by us.

Storm Petrel recovery from Rinnagree Point to Sheepland Harbour

On Saturday morning I was out bright and early at Grangemore to catch a few more of the breeding warblers before they up sticks and head for warmer climes.  Sedge Warblers are already on the move with a number passing through the coastal bird observatories of Britain. 
It was obvious from the off that things were much quieter with far fewer finches, no singing Sedge Warblers and a complete absence of Grasshopper Warblers.  The number of Sand Martins has dropped off considerably and again, are a species currently pouring through the coastal observatories on route to their sub-Saharan wintering grounds. 
Other birds about included the first Grey Wagtail since the winter, the local Buzzard pair with a fledgling, a Peregrine, ever increasing wader numbers/species and many more terns including the first few Common Terns and 4/5 metal ringed Sandwich Terns.
Reed Bunting

The catch was modest but it did include a couple more new Sedge Warblers.  The main 36m reedbed net ride was again disappointing catching only two birds.  It was also a bit of a problem taking the net down as the tide had risen higher than expected, resulting in a wellie full of water.  It was good to catch two new Reed Buntings as it may help explain where the birds that appear at Portstewart Strand in the autumn come from.    

Grangemore 23/07/2016                                      
                                       New     Retraps
Lesser Redpoll                 1
Linnet                               1
Meadow Pipit                    1
Reed Bunting                    2
Sedge Warbler                  3             2          
Willow Warbler                  1

Total                                10             2        
Willow Warbler

The third visit to the Macfin Sand Martin colony took place on Friday evening in perfect conditions.  It was a bit of a sedate hour or so but there was a bit of excitement when two Sparrowhawks bombed through.  The first bird was a male but unfortunately passed over as I was extracting birds from the net.  Twenty minutes later a female bird appeared and dropped in between the net and bank, flapping past the burrows but avoided the net.  Hirundines are always fantastic at warning you of the immanent arrival of a bird of prey! 
The recapture total was pretty good with 24 birds, 7 from 2014, 5 from 2015 and 12 from this year.  A further 20 new birds were also captured but again very few juveniles.  I could hear quite a number calling inside the burrows, so I was probably just a little too early for the second broods to have fledged.  One of the retraps was particularly interesting as it was a bird that was recovered at a Hirundine roost at Cors Ddyga, Anglesey, Wales back on the 19th of August 2014.  It's great to see that it made it back to breed for another year - I guess it avoided the nets last year.    

The season total for the Macfin Sand Martin colony stands at 96 new birds and 50 retraps.  The total number of new birds is lower than previous years but by including the increased number of retraps  (13 from 2014 and 18 from 2015), it is fairly close in the number of different birds handled.  10 of 13 2014 individuals retrapped had not been encountered since ringing.  For a second year running there were no controls caught at the colony but fingers crossed for a recovery on their way south.  The increased number of retraps may finally open up the window for a Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) study. 
I plan to give Grangemore a follow up visit so I will hold off on posting the totals for there until next week!

The view up river from the Macfin Sand Martin colony

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Recovery streak - Portuguese Sand Martin & 2nd BTO Sedge Warbler

On Saturday morning, a mear 4 hours after getting home from Storm Petrel ringing, I was down at Grangemore for visit three at the Sand Martin colony.  I was joined by David S from Copeland Bird Observatory, who had come up from Belfast direction.  The conditions were dry, cloudy and a little breezy.  The main focus was on ringing Sand Martins but we also put up a couple of nets in the small reed bed and marsh.  The wind direction was ideal for the Sand Martins as the bank was well sheltered from the south but the other nets were a little more affected.

Grasshopper Warbler

The site is currently coming down with birds with large flocks if marauding LinnetsGoldfinches plus plenty of Meadow Pipits, Reed Bunting, Skylark and Stonechat.  Again there were two reeling Grasshopper Warblers from the off but Sedge Warblers were much less conspicuous.  I also managed a total patch tick in the form of a juvenile Moorhen which we flushed from an area of reeds.  I was sure they breed in the estuary as the habitat is perfect but I've somehow never encountered one in the past 4/5 years... until now!   

I had the two 12m nets up in front of the Sand Martin colony pretty quickly and immediately caught a number of birds as they exited their burrows.  We caught quite well in the first few rounds and opted to the close the nets when we started to catch a couple of same day retraps.  In total we caught 54 new birds, 11 retraps and also 3 controls.  The best of the bunch was a Portuguese Sand Martin bearing a CEMPA SEA LISBOA ring and equals only my third foreign passerine recovery/control.  We also managed a couple of local controls from Macfin which is 12.6 kilometres away (14.1km following the river) and the interactions between the two colonies was the main reason we started ringing here.  Now we have a basis of ringed birds in both colonies it will be interesting to see the future exchanges between them.  The majority of the catch seemed to be adult females and very few juveniles, so I presume that brood two are well on the way and it may be worth a final visit at the end of the month to catch a few of the juveniles.
The other nets weren't overly productive but we did catch the first Grasshopper Warbler of the year plus 2 Stonechat, 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 new Sedge Warbler and another British/Irish Control Sedge Warbler.     

Movement between the Sand Martin colonies

Grangemore 16/07/2016

                                        New     Retraps     Controls
Grasshopper Warbler        1
Meadow Pipit                   1
Sand Martin                     54           11              3
Sedge Warbler                  1                              1
Stonechat                          2

Total                                59            11              4

On Friday night John, Geoff and I headed down to Rinnagree Point for our second attempt at catching Storm Petrels for the season.  It was much darker and milder this time around but a stiff westerly was just about workable.  We had the net open and tape on for 23.00 with the first birds appearing 15 minutes later.  The windier conditions seem to suit the birds and there was a constant stream of birds with 4/5 birds at a time and probably a few hundred birds over the two hours.  The wind was a real hinderance as the birds approached from the outside of the billowing net and the vast majority of birds bounced/turned.
We still had a decent catch and managed 21 new birds and one retrap.  If the wind had been a little lighter the catch could have been much greater, although perhaps not as many birds would have been attracted in.

The number of birds visiting the feeders in Kens garden are beginning to build as we approach the end of the breeding season so Ken held the first ringing session of the autumn season.  He was accompanied by Tyrone who is now approaching his application for his C permit.  The weather was a little hit and miss but the sheltered garden and the proximity of the nets to the house meant that the nets could be closed quickly during a short shower.
For mid July the catch was pretty decent with the finches already starting to gather in decent numbers.  House Sparrows were a species usually absent from the garden in the past 5/10 years but they seem to have taken up residence since the winter.  I'm not suggesting population increase/spread but they have certainly homed in on the plentiful food source! 

Kens Garden 12/07/2016                                                                      
Blue Tit                        4
Chaffinch                    11
Coal Tit                       5
Dunnock                      2
Goldfinch                    7
Great Tit                     3 
House Sparrow           1        
Robin                           4
Wren                            1               
Total                            38                          

I hope to get the data sent off to the BTO later this week and it shouldn't be too long before we receive the information on the three controls! (with the exception of the Portuguese Sand Martin).
We plan to get visit three at the Macfin Sand Martin colony at some point this week, maybe our first evening attempt and probably Portstewart Strand on Sunday morning.

Sedge Warbler

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Reed bed tester


Unfortunately the planned ringing on the north shore of Lough Neagh was cancelled today, so rather than waste a public holiday with decent weather, I tested out a new(ish) site.  I had been looking forward to the trip to Lough Neagh to catch good numbers of Sedge Warblers (of which we generally catch few), plus to get to grips with Reed Warblers, which is a bird I've yet to see in the hand.  Reed Warblers are still relatively scarce in Northern Ireland and Lough Neagh is probably at the northern end of their range in Ireland. 
Well, with Acro's in mind I thought I would test out a few new spots in the Bann Estuary that I have been eyeing up for quite a while, particularly for Sedge Warblers.  The habitat in the marsh at Grangemore (where we also have a Sand Martin colony) is fantastic and is a network of wet meadow, flooded channels, small reed beds, a tidal stream, patches of brambles, surrounded by some of the oldest dated sand dunes in Ireland.  I arrived around 06.30 and was greeted with the sound of two reeling Grasshopper Warblers, a flock of 60+ Linnet, half a dozen Sedge Warblers, 10+ Stonechats and a single Whitethroat.

For the keen eyed you will notice two nets in the two strips of reeds below and blog regulars will recognise the main areas of scrub at our Portstewart Strand ringing site across the river.

I put up one 18 and one 12 metre net in the small patches of reeds above and a further 40 metres in a larger patch of reeds by the edge of the stream. 
Sedge Warblers were the dominant feature of the morning with the first 10 birds being of this species.  The 40m net produced the best round with 2 Sedge Warbler, 1 Stonechat, 1 Reed Bunting and a Kingfisher, which flew in as I was extracting a bird below.  The total of 12 new Sedge Warblers was really pleasing and probably close to the number I have caught in the past 3/4 years.  It got even better as I caught a control Sedge Warbler with a BTO ring meaning it will have been ringed elsewhere in Britain or Ireland.  The Kingfisher was also a nice surprise as the reeds were on dry ground, plus it is the first I have seen/heard in the patch this year!   

  Grangemore 12/07/2016                                 

                                   New       Controls          
Kingfisher                   1
Reed Bunting              2
Sedge Warbler           12              1         
Stonechat                    1
Wren                            1               
Total                           17               1             

Sedge Warbler (British control - Adult female)

The site certainly has great potential and I would suggest I caught only a fraction of the Sedge Warblers on site, not to mention the countless others that may pass through from other areas of the estuary.  We will hopefully squeeze in another visit or two before the warblers head back south. 

Stonechat (Juvenile)

Sedge Warbler (Adult male)

Sedge Warbler (Juvenile)

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Mid Summer


On Saturday morning, John and I made the most of a short weather window and paid the first visit to Portstewart Strand in five weeks.  The forecast gave it warm, dry and calm until around 11, when it would turn very wet.  We arrived shortly after 6 and were greeted by very over grown net rides, so we spent a good hour whacking back the grasses/nettles/hogweed/brambles etc. before getting the majority of the nets up.  We need to do a little more work to another 48metres of net rides and of course anticipate more growth over the summer months.  The muggy 19°C morning produced 100's of biting House Flies which made things very uncomfortable. 

There's a net ride in here somewhere!

The estuary is starting to liven up once again with returning waders (Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling & Black-tailed Godwit), gulls, terns and ducks.  The Shelducks look to have had a decent breeding year with at least 25 youngsters making it to well developed juveniles - last year was a complete failure!
The ringing was going pretty well and we were catching quite a few birds before we packed up at 09.30 as the dark clouds started to build.  It was a nice mixed catch of 24 birds with over half being juveniles.  Packing up when we did was good call as the heavens opened as we were packing the car. 

  Portstewart Strand 09/07/2016                                 

                                   New       Retraps          
Blackcap                     3
Bullfinch                                       3
Chaffinch                   3
Dunnock                     3                                
Linnet                         1
Meadow Pipit             1
Robin                          2                1                                
Song Thrush              1      
Willow Warbler           4                 
Wren                           1                1
Total                           19               5             

At the moment it looks as though we are down on most species (partially down to effort), so it will be interesting to see how the remainder of the season goes.  Lesser Redpolls are normally a feature of the site in the spring (plus a few pairs breed) but they were almost completely absent this year - there were 1000's roaming the mainland UK, so that might explain where they went!   

Storm Petrel     (JC)

On Tuesday night the weather looked perfect for the first Storm Petrel ringing session of the season, so we gave it a go.  John, Steve and I met up at 11pm in very bright conditions but the winds were very light from the south and it was forecast to cloud over a little.

The view north after 11pm

It remained pretty bright through the session until we packed up around 1.30am, with the prospect of work in the morning.  The first bird of the night was a retrap from last July (the same as the first bird of last year too), which hit the nets around 00.45, with a further three new birds after 01.00. 

The same view after 12.30pm

Our attempts at catching Stormies are still very unpredictable and we still haven't worked out what the main contributing factor is.  Is it the moon (brightness) & tides, the period of summer, cloud cover, wind speed, wind direction, the distribution of plankton/small fish on which they feed -  we simply don't know.  We do know that what we deem perfect conditions can result in poor catches, whereas windy nights with mist can catch well... but not always.  One factor we are sure on (or we think so anyway) is the benefit of having a southerly wind which helps carry the lure out to sea and draw the birds in and of course sticking to July and August as attempts in late June and early September have always been unsuccessful!  Hopefully it won't be to long before our next attempt to keep on track for our yearly target of 200 birds.

Last Sunday we completed visit two to both of the Sand Martin colonies.  We had planned to head out in the morning but continual rain meant we waited until around 11.  The large Macfin colony was the first port of call and it produced only 30 new birds; 11 of those juveniles and 7 retraps (1 from 2016, 4 2015 & 2 2014).  The wind was a little blustery so it made the net a bit obvious at times.  The second stop was to Grangemore which was unfortunately quite a bit breezier with the wind blowing down both channels toward the bend of the meander.  Despite the wind we caught 18 new birds of which 2 were juveniles.  The first visit to Grangemore was also a bit breezy so hopefully visit three will be a little better. 

Grangemore colony

Steve has managed a bit of ringing down home in Tyrone over the past month or so with the best catch being a House Martin.

Blackbird                2
Blackcap                 2
Chaffinch                4       
Coal Tit                   7
Goldfinch                5
Great Tit                  6
House Martin          1
House Sparrow       1
Lesser Redpoll        1
Treecreeper             1
Siskin                       3
Willow Warbler       4
Wren                        2


The weather over the public holiday looks pretty lousy so I don't envisage much ringing on the north coast but a trip to the reed beds of Lough Neagh may be on the cards.  

Pygmy Shrew (Barn Owl or Kestrel food if we had any in the Bann Estuary)

Saturday, 2 July 2016

June 2016

I've arrived back in Northern Ireland to pretty cold, wet and breezy conditions, so I haven't been able to jump straight back into any ringing but the others have been doing bits and pieces over the last three weeks.  We also received news of our best Blackbird control yet plus some new funding!

On the 22nd of June, the team assembled at Inch Wild Fowl Reserve, Donegal for the final visit of the season to the Gull/Tern colony, hoping to ring the remaining chicks.  Ken, John and the National Parks and Wildlife Service Team were again joined by Adam and Gary from the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.
The weather had taken a bit of turn over the preceding weeks with more wet/cold weather and some thundery showers, resulting in higher water levels (closer to the norm), making access to the Islet much easier than the previous visit. 
The results were a little disappointing considering the potential of it shaping it up to be one of the best years at the colony.  The Sandwich Tern result was decent with 22 more birds ringed from the c30 eggs counted on the previous visit.  These 22 birds take the total up to 357 birds for the year, which compares well with previous years.  2016 represents the sixth most successful breeding year for Sandwich Terns in the 31 years of the study, the most productive year was 453 birds ringed in 2004.  For more information, check out the Terns/Gulls tab above.

Common Tern

Common Terns on the other hand were the big disappointment with only 22 birds ringed from what could have been over 150.  The Common Terns nest at the edge of the colony so are a little more susceptible to predation, changes in water levels and probably the weather.
It would appear that predation, potentially from large gulls, is the issue.  Twenty odd larger Black-headed gull chicks were found dead at the edge of the tern nesting area and looked to have been killed.  We reckon that it is more the case of missing eggs, rather than chicks.  A total of 32 Common Terns were ringed this year, which is just one more than the previous year and much better than the years of complete breeding failure. 

Adam and Gary were again busy colour-ringing Black-headed Gull pulli and added a further 52 new birds to the study, making it a grand total of 122 colour-ringed BHG's at Inch, plus a further 39 metal ringed.  The numbers ringed looks very favourable against numbers from the last 31 years but BHG's have never been a focus of study in the past and the total this year represents only a fraction of the population of the islet.  It will be really interesting to see where these guys start to crop up in future years and whether many will return to breed on the Islet. 
You can stay up to date with any findings on the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study Blog or their Facebook Page - the blog can be found on the following link -

Colour-ringed Black-headed Gull

It has been a while since we got a long-distance control, so we were very pleased to receive news of a Blackbird that I had ringed in my garden, had been recovered in Norway!  The bird was found in unfortunate circumstances with just its leg and the ring recovered all the way up in Hundorp, Opland.  The female, born in 2013, was originally ringed on the 2nd of January 2014 and recovered 881 days later on the 1st of June this year, presumably on its breeding grounds.  The straight line distance between the two locations is 1202km.  This is our first control to Norway but hopefully not the last. 

Blackbird control to Hundorp, Norway

John and Steve visited the new Sand Martin colony at Grangemore a few weeks back for the first time to test out its potential.  The late morning visit was a little breezy and made the nets a bit obvious.  The colony is on the outer bank of a meander on a small tidal river, which makes setting a net quite difficult.  They opted for an 18m, 3 shelf net but a few shorter nets may be more suitable in future visits.  The catch was decent enough considering the conditions with 16 new birds caught.  14 of these birds were juveniles plus two adult females.  The following two visits will hopefully pick up more of the adult birds plus more of the juveniles.      

Sand Martin

The final bit of good news is that we were successful in gaining a little bit of funding from the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording at the National Museums Northern Ireland.  An application had been put forward for the Environmental Recorders Group Fund to cover the cost of rings and we received partial funding.  The £137 granted is around a quarter of the amount requested but it will still go a long way in enabling our scientific research and we are very grateful to CEDaR