NLRG was formed in 1957 to help in the study of birds in the Lancaster and District Birdwatching Society area. There are currently 12 active ringers. Species currently being studied include: Pied Flycatcher, Bearded Tit, Sand Martin, Twite, Goosander, Oystercatcher and Grey Wagtail. Migration has been studied for 28 years at Heysham. We welcome anyone who wants to observe, help or perhaps wish to become a ringer. Photo: A Heysham-ringed Twite on the Mull of Kintyre (thanks to Eddie Maguire)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Godwit update

Luckily there are no photos in today's report!  Since Saturday a total of 15 sightings of Godwit have been made at Leighton Moss of 12 individuals with a peak count of 2,100.  600 birds have also been seen at Condor which included at least two colour ringed birds.  These are certainly different individuals to those present at Leighton Moss.  I'll update the blog in a few days with a summary of the birds seen locally.

On Saturday I predicted today was the day to see birds migrating.  When I arrived at the Allen Pools this evening it was clear the Redshank were more excited than yesterday and the numbers of Godwit had dropped significantly.  The noise from the 1,000 Redshank was incredible with constant calling and all the groups were jumpy.  This is part was due to disturbance however a lot was due to them being ready to head North to breed.

When I arrived there were only about 100 Godwit on the pools.  At around 19:30 a group of 40 took off noisily and circled over the pools before heading North, briefly returning over the pools before heading North West at height with great determination.  Soon afterwards another group of about 40 did the same leaving about 25 Godwit on the pools. I thought all that was left for the evening was for the Redshank to do the same however they showed little interest in moving out.  At around 19:50 a flock of about 400 Godwit flew up from the Heysham area gaining height as they flew North.  Roughly over Arnside they circled and gained more height before flying North East.  They soon reappeared and like previous flocks circled over the pools before heading North East once again gaining height and disappeared into a fantastic sunset.

This evening is one of the most memorable migration sights I have had in the UK.  Autumn mornings on the East coast can be spectacular with huge numbers of birds coming off the sea however this is nothing compared to seeing birds departing en masse with the huge amounts of chatter between individuals in a flock.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Colour ringed waders

It was a bit too windy to do any ringing this morning so I spent the morning trying to read some Black-tailed Godwit colour rings on the Allen Pools at Leighton Moss.  Initially success was limited to the French ringed breeding Avocet now in its 3rd season at Leighton Moss.  This bird was ringed as a chick in the gulf of Morbihan, France during 2008. It was then seen frequently until 2010 close to its natal area before appearing in 2012 at Leighton Moss and has been present every season since.

After another hour of looking through the hundreds of summer plumaged Godwit I finally found some White Wagtails, Ruff, summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Knot and Turnstone yet still no colour rings. I decided that Leighton Moss must be the place where unmarked birds go while on migration so was about to give up.  Luckily something disturbed the Godwit from roosting in deep water and I found the first colour ringed Godwit of the day:

With a bit of imagination you can see the Green/Green/Yellow on the left leg and Green/Yellow/Green on the right, also known as GGY-GYG.  This shows the bird was ringed in Suffolk.  I'm awaiting details for this bird however it is the first time we're aware of it being in the area.

With renewed enthusiasm I rescanned the flock and quickly found two more colour marked birds, YN-RX (Yellow/Black, Red/WhiteX) and YN-LO (Yellow/Black, Lime/Orange).  The first of these is a regular at Leighton Moss, having been ringed in Iceland in 2009.  It is often present in October and late March to early April spending the rest of the winter on the Dee.  Sadly (or maybe, judging by the other photos, luckily) things were happening too quickly to take a photo!  YN-LO was also ringed in Iceland although details are still to come.

I once again was planning to give up when another bird woke up and started preening.  The rapid leg movement while standing in deep water made reading the combination just a little difficult however after quite a few minutes of waiting OR-WW (Orange/Red, White/White) finally became readable.  For me this is a nice record because it was ringed on the Wash where I have ringed many birds although I was catching birds on a different field on the Wash when this one was ringed in August 2010. This bird has had few sightings since ringing which are all in East Anglia except a passage record in Scotland in April 2013.

Just as I had decided it was too cold and really time to give up I managed to see another colour ringed bird.  Sadly for readers I took a photo:

All I can say is this is the bird that got away!

As always thanks to all the ringers who provided the details of the birds (Guillaume Gelinaud, Jenny Gill, Pete Potts and Vigfus Eyjolfsson).  Sightings of colour marked birds are always really valuable particularly at this time of year when there is rapid turnover of birds using sites to feed up before heading to Iceland to breed.  My guess is that most of these will clear out on Tuesday evening when a gentle southerly wind is forecast.  It may be an excellent evening to be at the Allen Pools to watch large numbers of Godwits depart for Iceland in the early evening.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Pair Fidelity and Early Pair Formation in Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit nesting is in full swing at Leighton Moss. This year we are using small trail cameras to  record the unique colour ring combinations of nesting pairs as part of our 23 year long study of this isolated population. We are hoping that the cameras, (installed under our Schedule 1 disturbance permit) will also reveal the identity of any nest predator.

We already have the colour combinations of two pairs and they  show how Bearded Tits pair in their first summer/autumn and once paired remain together through the winter if of course they both  survive.

The  first pair was ringed as juveniles in 2011. The first time they were seen together was on 4th October of that year. Since then we have recorded them together on 14 occasions mainly on the grit trays in autumn. The best period was in October 2013  when they were seen gritting as a pair on  6 days. Bearded Tits are difficult birds to keep up with because they spend all their time deep within the reed beds where access is very limited and is only really possible by boat. But the grit trays are a good focal point in autumn.

The second pair are in their first year. The female was from a first brood in 2013 but the male was from a late brood and was ringed still in juvenile plumage on 5th September. They were seen on the grit trays as a pair on 3 occasions between late November and mid January.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Another Batch of Recoveries

A recent batch of recoveries include many  that back up past findings but a few that break new ground.

Two more Sand Martins caught on autumn migration in France, brings our total to 47. Both were adults we controlled at colonies on the River Lune and both had been ringed at the same site in Charente-Maritime in France in August 2012.

A Reed Warbler in  France in August brings our total from there to 19 with 12 of them in August. Much more unusual was one in  Ceuta  the Spanish enclave in North Africa on April 1st, bringinmg our total African Reed Warblers to 5 the other four were in Morrocco

Our colour ringed study of autumn migrant Grey wagtails centred on Heysham has produced some interesting results. Sightings from previous years have been from Merseyside (2) Staffordshire and Wiltshire. A sighting at Skokholm (Pembrokeshire) on October 14th just 10 days after ringing at Heysham and 304 km SSW is the longest movement we have recorded. Uniquely this winter has produced  3 sightings in our local area suggesting that this unusually mild winter has inhibited movement.

A wintering Siskin was caught in the breeding season 508 km N at Bettyhill (Highland) making 16 birds from this area from our winter and spring ringing.

Two nestling Cormorants from Puffin Island (Anglesy) were  found dead in our area in their first winter, making 7 from Puffin Island to date.

Finally a Brambling made an interesting change of wintering location it was ringed on Feb 8 2013 at West Tofts (Norfolk) and photographed by Margaret Breaks in her garden at Newton Bowland on  March 2nd 2014.


Sunday, 23 March 2014

NLRG 2013 Ringing Report

The following link is to the 2013 North Lancs Ringing Group report.  This report summarises the work of the group over 2013.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Med Gull Update & Recent Recoveries

Perhaps the most interesting of  the latest batch of recoveries was the ringing information of three of the German ringed Med Gulls that were sighted off the Heysham Power Station outfalls in July. Interestingly two had been ringed as nestlings on the same date(16/6/12) in the roof top colony at Pionierinsel Luhe Grunendeich Germany and seen just seven days apart at Heysham. The third bird was also from the same colony but had been ringed as a nestling in 2009 and sighted at Heysham in August 2011 and again this July.Would be interesting to know where these three birds are now.
Other recoveries included four of our juvenile Reed warblers caught in August and early September at Icklesham Ringing Station in Sussux, one was caught there just four days after ringing at Leighton Moss. This brings the total of Reed Warblers from our ringing to  45 from Sussex almost all at Icklesham. But perhaps the most interesting Reed Warbler was an adult male ringed at Leighton on 19th June and caught 17 days later  38km south. We know from many other recoveries that adult Reed Warblers move south at the end of the breeding season. But this one is very early. The 2013 breeding season had a very late start due to the cold spring and few if any Reed Warblers had second broods so this bird was presumably starting its migration in early July.

Another Sand Martin in West France brings our total  of Sand Martins Recoveries from France to 44, while one from Icklesham brings our total  to a staggering 149. Three more Twite from Argyll and caught wintering at Heysham brings our total from this Scottish locality to 30.

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Question of Survival

With the weather  halting any ringing activities I spent some time up dating the Group's  longevity records from our database of 217,000 records. Not only did I look for our oldest bird by species but I logged  every bird over 5 years old for our most ringed species. As might be  expected some of the larger species live the longest- Oystercatcher 23 years, Black-headed gull   16 years and Knot 15 years.

However it  was the smaller species which proved most interesting especially when it came to comparing  closely related species or birds occupying the same habitats. Almost all the records I quote are from retrapped birds which are still going strong so  life spans quoted are minimal.

Reed Warblers are outstanding. We have ringed 15148 new birds which have produced 4322 retraps. Our oldest  is 9 years and 293 days, but we have another 1 at 9 years, 2 at 8, 8 at 7, 8 at 6 and 19 at five years. By contrast our oldest Sedge Warbler is just 5 years and 22 days and is the only bird over 5 years from 9889 new birds and 1037 retraps. Part of the reason for the differences between these two wetland warblers is that the majority of the Sedge Warblers we catch are migrants, which from recoveries are mainly Scottish birds whereas  almost all the Reed warblers we catch breed at our ringing sites so are much more likely to be re-trapped.

Turning to the tits. Our oldest Great tit is a staggering 13 years and 345 days, a national record but we have only   5 other birds over 5 years. Our oldest Blue Tit is 8 years and 15 days and we have 16 others over 5 years. We have ringed over twice as many Blue tits as Great Tits 22899 compared with 9526  but retraps rates are similar. The oldest Coal Tit was 6 years and 314 days, Marsh Tit  7 years and 349 days and Bearded Tit 7 years and 42days another national record.

Another long lived species is Chaffinch 9 years 246 days is the oldest with another 16 over 5 years. This compares with Greenfinch with  the longest lived exactly 9 years but only 4 others over 5 years.
We have ringed 7139 Greenfinch  1546 more than Chaffinch and retrap rates are about the same as are numbers ringed at our main sites. Possibly the disease trichomonosis which mainly affected Greenfinch in  our area is part of the reason. 

The final pair are Dunnock and Robin.The oldest Dunnock was 9 years and 285 days and we had 6 others over 5 years. The oldest Robin was 7 years 95 days but only 1 other was over 5 years. We have ringed 4102 Robins, 1675 more than Dunnocks and retrap rates are similar, so why should these two birds which occupy similar habitat apparently differ in their survival rates?

So why should Reed Warblers which make the hazardous journey  every year to the African wintering grounds and back, (in the case of our almost  10 year old Reed warbler flying ca 40,000  kms on its migrations  alone) apparently survive much longer than  Robins and Greenfinches  which we feed regularly in our gardens?