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)

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Nest Box Progress and Recent Recoveries

 Its been a difficult season so far for our nest boxes. A few Great and Blue Tits started at the usual time, but most are 10-15 days late no doubt due to the cold April . Clutch and brood size have been low in the tits and Nuthatch and there has been several cases of the all brood  being found dead.

It has varied somewhat from site to site , difficult to know why this should be be . At one site close to a well stocked feeding station,  survival and brood size has been good. But at another,  also close to feeding stations it is the worst season in over twenty years. Besides the difficult weather this later wood is suffering badly from Ash die-back.

By contrast Pied Flycatchers in most of our woods are doing well. They are about 10-15 days later than usual but clutch size has been normal. Too early yet to report on brood size as on the last visit two days ago around 50% had yet to hatch. One wood has suffered from heavy predation, thought to be weasel or Stoat.

Recoveries recently have been rather sparse but some interesting ones. A  Blackcap ringed on 26th November at a feeding station was found dead 36 days later 290 km south in Somerset. So they move around in winter. 

Siskins are uncommon breeders in our area and a juvenile caught at a feeding station on July 19th was thought probably to have been  a locally bred bird. However it  was caught 330 kms north in Aberdeenshire, soo  obviously a Scottish breeder. It is our 37th Siskin from NE Scotland.

A Lesser Redpoll ringed on 20th April was found in the Western Isles 452 km  north in 20  days.

This is a busy time of year with ringing starting on our Sand Matin RAS on the River Lune.Last year we had 120 nests of Pied Flycatcher in the Lune valley. So hopefully we will have plenty of  nestlings and  adults  to ring this year in our  RAS.


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Another Knot post

 It's a while since I posted anything about Knot. The project keeps going with sightings coming in thick and fast from the North West and recently Orkney, Shetland and Iceland. We have been very successful at colour marking moulters and winterers on the Sefton coast however the group we have targeted and failed are the 2nd year birds which historically congregate on the Sefton coast throughout summer. This changed last week when we added colour rings to around 250 2nd year birds and recaught three that were ringed last autumn in Ceredigion. 

One day I hope we will have answered some of the following questions about these second year knot:

  • Where do they winter, is it in the North West or elsewhere?
  • Do they moult in future years on the Sefton coast or go elsewhere?
  • Do they avoid Norway as a migration route like those we have marked as Adults do?
  • Do any canutus spend their second summer here? 
  • Do males and females do the same thing or is there a heavy bias in those summering in the North West? 

I think it's safe to say very few or no canutus were in the catch from the biometrics so recoveries of these birds in Africa is pretty unlikely.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the proportion of adults we caught (about 10%). Those going to breed should have gone in early to mid May so these are, without a doubt, birds that are not going to breed this year. The weights of birds were too low to make it to the arctic and only around 15g heavier than the immature birds.

If these were birds in poor condition as a result of issues in since their last moult it would be likely their wing and bill measurements would reflect those of the adult wintering population. When I plotted wings against bills of adults we caught last week and those we caught in March 2018 it's clear there is a significant difference. The May birds were short winged and short billed. This suggests they're more likely to be males. 

I can see a few possible reasons for this although none really provide a complete answer:

  • Females are more likely to breed in their 3rd year
  • Non-breeding males and females spend the summer in different places
  • Males are more risk averse than females and therefore abandon migration earlier
  • The birds present in March include bigger birds that have moved in from the South
I've no doubt I've missed a few possibilities, suggestions as to what could be going on are welcome.

This made me think about whether the adults and juveniles are of a similar size, anyway, what's interesting is these small adults have marginally bigger bills than the immature birds. I would expect that the full bill length should have been reached by now. Wing lengths are not comparable because the immature birds are still flying on their first set of flight feathers.

In summary there are no answers, just questions. With just 3 already ringed birds caught these cannot really help answer any questions other than showing that juvenile Knot that used Ceredigion in September 2020 have moved to the Sefton coastline for the summer.

A huge thanks to everyone involved, particularly Sefton Council for access, all the observers for the huge numbers of colour ring sightings and everyone involved in processing and flagging the Knot.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Pied FlycatcherFamilies

 Have spent some time during the lockdown looking at our Pied Flycatcher data.  In total the group has ringed 10,153  nestlings from around 1650 broods. Return rates since we started the RAS in 2012 has been around 9%.

 Most of the birds returning  as adults are the only one which survives from a brood of 6 or 7. However I discovered that  two birds from 37 broods had survived to  return as breeding  adults. However a brood of six ringed in  2012 was exceptional as four nestlings returned  to breed in our nestboxes in the following years.

Adult birds usually have a survival rate of ca 45%. But this exceptional brood also had a good adult survival rate. One survived for two year another for three years  with another at four years and most amazing one for six years. This  was  just a year short of our oldest  Pied Flycatcher. So an amazing brood.

The parents though were not exceptional, the  female was only in its first breeding season and the age of the male was  unknown as it was newly  ringed that year. We never retrapped either of them in the following years.

Looking forward to this coming spring to seee how many pairs return. Last year we had a record numer of 120 occupied boxes. At the moment we are planning a visit to repair and replace some of the older nest boxes.


Thursday, 21 January 2021

Recent Recoveries

The most unexpected recent recovery was a Blackcap ringed on 26 November  in Daves garden which sadly flew into a window 56 days later at Glastonbury Somerset 290 kms south on January 1st. Obviously a wintering bird that was still on the move. Our first recovery of a wintering Blackcap.

A Sedge Warbler in Loire Atlantique France  in mid August was the Groups 57th Sedge Warbler from France. Also we have had 59 from the south coast of Enngland. However we  have only had three from Spain and one from Portugal. Sedge Warblers prepare for a long haul flight by accumulating  fat reserves in southern Britain  and France before making a long haul flight across Iberia, North Africa and the Sahara.

Other recoveries were a colour ringed Oystercatcher ringed as a nestling in Norway in July 2020 and feeding on fields near Heysham this winter. Our 19th Oystercatcher from Norway.

A Mute Swan colour ringed ringed by the Swan Group in our area as a juvenile was seen in Dumfies still going  strong at 23 and a half years! National longetivity record is 29 years

We couldnt do our RAS Bearded Tit Study this year after 17 years due to the present restrictions. But   Bearded  Tits are still coming to the grit trays, there were five there last week which is quite late for such activity.


Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Highlights of 2020

 A difficult year because of the lockdowns, but the group managed to ring 6006 new birds just over 3000 down on 2019. We didnt do our two RAS 's for Bearded Tits and Reed Warbler at Leighton Moss, but we did our Sand Martin and Pied Flycatcher studies in the Lune valley. The Pied Flycatcher study was a real highlight with a peak of 120 occupied nest boxes and despite not ringing in two woods we ringed 97 new adults, 812 nestlings and had 150 retraps. Other good numbers ringed were 561 Meadow Pipits 153 Redwing, 126 Dippers and 99 Grey Wagtails.

Recovery highlights were our furthest north Grey Wagtail in Fife and furthest south into Dorset. Despite ringing over 7000 Meadow Pipits over the years we have had  very few recoveries but this year we had  one from Cunbria just six days after ringing and one wintering in Devon.

Pied Flycatchers controls included no fewer than four ringed as nestlings in Wales and found breeding in the Lune Valley. Are they moving north due to climate change? Blackcaps were reported in spring from the Netherlands and on their  way south from Sussex and Hertforshire. A Goldfich ringed while wintering in our area was caught in early autumn in Aberdeenshire.

Returns from colour ringing have been exceptionally good this autumn.

About 30 colour ringed Knot have been seen at the large roost at Heysham. The value of colour ringing is that thanks to an international   group of dedicated recorders we can monitor the movements and survival of the species, a bird can be seen up to 20 times in four different countries. This year we have had five reports from Norway and 20 reports from Iceland all in May as they pause on their migration to the breeding grounds in Greenland and Artic Canada. On their return they move to the Waddensea in The Netherlands and The Wash to moult from late July to early October before moving to Morecambe Bay for winter with a few moving on to Ireland.

Other species with colour ring sightings included Oystercatchers from Iceland and Norway, Black-headed Gulls from Poland, Norway and Germany. Mediterranean Gulls from Poland, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. All passing through or wintering in our area.


Thursday, 19 November 2020

Knot at Heysham

Recently Knot have taken a lot of the birding attention with record numbers seen at Snettisham in October producing some spectacular videos and photos. Some of these went viral and even appeared on the BBC quiz of the week's news. Over the current series of tides spies/dedicated observers have been out at Heysham and collectively have produced records of about 20 individually colour ringed Knot. It would be easy to give the full life histories of them all and say 'oh, that's interesting' and move on. There is, however, a fair amount of value in looking further. I'll start with a brief summary of recent sightings:

Three of the birds were recorded on the Wash over summer and autumn, each moving across to Morecambe bay in the last few weeks. These were ringed in Iceland, Formby and on the Wash. It's likely all these moulted on the Wash before moving West.

Another 5 are known moulters on the Waddensea in previous years. One of them has a radio tag so it's departure date from the Waddensea is likely known and also has a history in Morecambe bay in previous winters. A bird seen today in Barrow was colour marked just a month ago near Texel.

A few more have come up from the Sefton coast having been ringed this summer as moulting 2nd year birds. We have now seen over 10% of the ones marked at Ainsdale in July at Heysham this autumn.

All of these records show a movement into Morecambe bay over the last month. This is exactly what we would expect and will certainly be reflected in the WeBS data along with likely declines in numbers on the Wash and Waddensea throughout November. Other areas in the West will undoubtedly have seen a significant increase in Knot numbers throughout November. As a result it would be very easy to question why this colour marking is useful when we can infer so much from WeBS and other count data such as Birdtrack.  What the count data mask, and is demonstrated by the birds from the Sefton coast moving North is that when the post-moult migration happens there is a lot of movement out of areas where new are also arriving. It could be that counts in some estuaries remain broadly stable but have a large turnover of birds whereas other sites have few knot in October but thousands in November. Are these birds from the areas with a drop in counts between October and November? Could they be birds from areas with stable counts? We simply do not know without the additional data from colour ringing.

The colour ringing effort across Europe with Knot is giving us resolution in data we have never had before. In the 1960s and 1970s large catches of Knot were made that established birds moved West after moulting however the level of ringing at such a large number of sites needed to establish the timing and site connectivity at such a high resolution is massive and difficult to achieve while maintaining good monitoring on other species. With modern optics so much can be achieved by creating an enthusiastic observer network who get to know what 'their' birds do and find them back at the same site more or less on the same date each year. Per observer hour there is little doubt that reading wader colour rings is the most effective way to monitor movement and survival of Knot (and many, but not all, other wader species too).

Integrating the count data and movement data tell us so much more than either one on it's own. The biggest benefit of having the individual movement data is it gives us connectivity data between sites. Adding the count data allows modellers to work out proportions of birds moving in different ways and help understand the importance of each site to the population as a whole. It may be sites with relatively modest counts throughout the year host a far higher proportion of the population throughout the year than these counts show. The reverse may also be true to some extent as well, sites with bigger counts may be far less significant to the population as a whole than the peak count suggests.

I have no doubt everyone who takes part in a BTO survey will say their preferred survey is the most important whether it be Breeding Bird Survey, Wetland Bird Survey, Ringing Scheme, Birdtrack, Nest Record Scheme or the Heronry Census however this is not the case, they're all important and without each one providing so much complimentary data each would give significantly weaker results. 

Next time you are out birding and see a colour ringed bird why not make the effort to report it? Who knows, it may be the Knot that spent an autumn on the Azores and returned the following autumn or it may be one that was seen a few days before on the other side of the country. It just takes that one magic record to get hooked. 

None of this would have been possible with the dedication of a small group of observers, so a big thank you all. What is so encouraging is each year the small group of observers grows with new names added to the regular observers. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll on the Move

Just recieved a report of a Golfinch from Aberdeenshire. This is our 10th recovery in Scotland of birds ringed in our area. Eight of these were ringed during winter at feeding stations and two during the spring passage. The latest was ringed in mid December 2015 and retrapped at the feeders in the following January and February. It  returned the next winter being retrapped in December 2016, so obviously a wintering bird. This  year it was caught in mid October in Aberdeenshire. Birds we have ringed during the passage periods have been retrapped in the south of England especially Sussex  and two have crossed into northern France.

A Lesser Redpoll was a quick mover. Ringed here on October 11th it was retrapped 15 days later 204 kms  ESE at  Spurn . Rather an unusual movement for this time of year but maybe the recent strong westerly winds helped.