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, 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.






Tuesday, 20 October 2020

A Bumper Month for Meadow Pipits

 During this September the Group ringed 508 Meadow Pipits about the usual number of this common  dirunal migrant. What was outstanding was we had two controls. One caught on 21st September had been ringed  six days previously  at Watch Tree Reserve Northern  Cumbria. The other was caught on the 18th and had been ringed in Devon a year and five days previously a movement of 406 kms. Nothing unusual about that you might say but although we have ringed 7353 Meadow Pipits over the past 20 years these are only our third  and fourth controls and over the same period we have had only two recoveries.

Retraps have only totaled 29  over the 20 years. We have ringed at three coastal sites and three inland sites on the edge of the moorland.. With roughly equal numbers inland and coastal. The coastal sites have produced only two retraps while the inland sites had 27 with the oldest bird being four years and seven days from first ringing. The reason for this difference is that the coastal birds in September are very much on the move. Whereas the inland catch probably includes many locally bred birds which return in the following years.

We catch birds by playing song and use  both mist nets and whoosh nets. September produces the largest catches with 5095 compared with 1136 in August and only 364 in October over the 20 year period.

John

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Ringing and Recovery update

Ringing Update

In this difficult year with ringing not yet allowed on two of our major sites we have manged to handle  just under 6500 birds to date, around 1750 down on lastyear  for the same period. Blue Tits  are usually our most ringed species with 834 this year. However, Pied Flycatchers  now head the lisit with 983 handlings. Sand Martins come in at 468 and Meadow Pipits at 457.'

Recent Recoveries

 Meadow Pipits are  one of the commonest passage birds in our area. We have ringed over 7300 over the years but we have only had one recovery and four controls. A control  on September 18th this year had been ringed  a year previously in Devon. Past ringing has produced one  from Devon  and one from Hampshire on  autumn passage. We have had only 25 retraps,most of them  at the same area as ringing including one four years and 40 days after ringing.

A Blackcap was reported on passage in West Sussex. Interesting to compare the ringing stats with Meadow Pipits. We have ringed 4180 but this has produced 24 recoveries including reports from The Netherlands, Spain and Algeria.

Up to this year despite ringing almost 950 Tree Sparrows the longest movement has been 10 km. But this year one was found dead on the tideline and had been ringed as a nestling near Wakefield  113 km SE. How it got on the Morecambe Bay tide line is a  mystery.

Two sightings of colour ringed Black-headed Gulls in a park where they are regularly fed. are interesting. Although ringed locally by ringers outside our group one had  been reported from St Petersburg Russia in June and another in The Netherlands in March.

The value of colour ringing is well shown by a Mediterranean Gull .Orginally ringed on July 2018 in Devon. It has been sighted in spring and summer 2019 in  Finistere France. This year in early Spring it was seen in South Wales and Hampshire  then in September  on the Lune Estuary. Quite a mover.

John

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Pied Flycatchers Have a Bumper Year


This year has seen a welcome increase in the number of Pied Flycatchers using our nest boxes in the Lune Valley. Unfortunately, because of corvid 19 we were not able to survey two woods. However, the 18 woods we did survey held 109 occupied boxes an increase of 21 over 2019.

Every time I visit one of our woods, I reflect on the changes we have recorded. The first survey that the Lancaster and District BWS did was a study of the Redstart population which I organised in 1960. We found it to be well distributed in the Lune valley and many of the woods there were searched, but we had only one record of a Pied Flycatcher, a male on May7th. We could have possibly missed others but they were certainly very rare. To see Pied Flycatchers at this time I had to go to the two nest box schemes near Grasmere and on the edge of Ullswater. I wondered why Pied Flycatchers were so rare in our area for the habitat looked right but I concluded that it must be because of a shortage of natural holes in the Oak trees. This was further highlighted when several of the Redstart nests we found were in holes in stone walls. The lack of natural holes was probably accounted for by the past management of the woods for fuel and charcoal production so most of the trees were relatively young and not at the stage where they produce holes

We decided to try some nest boxes but first had to get permission for each woodland.  So just seven boxes were tried in 1966 and we were thrilled when two were occupied by Pied Flycatchers. Over the next few years, we extended the scheme throughout the upper woods. We now have around 500 nest boxes monitored by members of the  Group. One of the thrills I get each spring is to lift the lid of a nest box and see the lovely blue eggs of a Pied Flycatcher and hear the chorus of singing males.
We  catch the adult birds at the nest box and off course ring the nestlings. Over the period of our study we have ringed 13354 birds. The results of all this effort are interesting. Taking nestlings first, of those that return to breed, 29% return to their natal wood, 57% to other woods in the Lune valley and 14 % elsewhere. Of the later most have moved to the Ribble valley and Cumbria but a few as far as Scotland and South Wales. F431440 though is interesting, on 4/05/91 it was caught in Noord Holland The Netherlands then 33 days later it was caught breeding in Jylland Denmark. The same year F431397 also a male, was caught at a nest box with 4 young on 28th June in North Germany. We had ringed both these birds as nestlings in 1990

Once they have nested 97% of the males that return, nest again in the same wood. Females are a bit more choosey, with 25 % moving to other woods mainly in the Lune valley but occasionally further afield. On several occasions we have proved that a male has two nesting females with the male feeding the young at both nests.We also get birds coming in to breed in our area from elsewhere mainly Cumbria and Durham and seven from Wales including four this year.

So we have gone from just one male in 1960 to probably around 125 nests this year. A real conservation achievement.
John

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Pied Flycatchers Still on a Roll

With more data coming in it looks as though our total of occupied nests in our Lune Valley RAS might be  ca. 30 up on last years total of 106. On our Bowland RAS one wood has increased from 18 last year to 23 this year to balance this another wood has  seen a decline from 23 to 12. The trees in this upland wood suffered severe frost damage so this may possibly be the reason.
In the three woods that I record, all 26 nests have suffered no predation although a Blue Tit nest in one wood has been woodpeckered. Three of the nests close to the exposed edge had some dead young but of  the 18 broods ringed so far the average size is 6 young.
Ringed adults caught have followed the usual pattern of a dispersal within the Lune Valley and Bowland areas. But we had a female which had been ringed as a nestling in Powys last year. It joins another Welsh nestling which has nested in our area for  the past three years.
John

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Pied Flycatchers on a Roll

With the BTO lifting some of the restrictions on ringing, we decided to make our Pied Flycatcher RAS in the upland woods of the Lune Valley our priority. First impressions have been exciting. In two of the larger woods with 110 nest boxes, we found 43 boxes occupied by Pied Flycatchers compared to just 28 last year.
To date we have caught 31 females of which 21 were already ringed. The most interesting of the these was one which was ringed as a nestling near Swansea in South Wales. It bred in our woodlands last year and has returned to the same wood this year. Another is almost six years old, it is breeding in its natal wood although for its first year it bred in another of our woods before returning to its natal wood the next year.
Our RAS covers 20 woods in the Lune valley , we also ring in other woods a little further south. Last year we ringed 952 birds of which 864 were nestlings and we had 121 retraps. The Pied Flycatcher population in the Lune valley has increased dramatically since we first started putting up nest boxes in 1966 with only two pairs. Most of our woodlands, probably due to past cutting to make charcoal have very few natural holes so the provision of nest boxes has ben a great conservation benefit. Over the last decade the numbers of pairs has increased from 54 in 2009 to 109 in 2019, partly because of more boxes being installed.
We have looked at our data over the years. We have found that 32 % of nestlings return to breed in their natal wood, 55% return to other woods in the Lune Valley and 12% move outside our area. For males 40% return to the natal wood 59 % move to other Lune Valley woodlands and only 1% move further afield.
Birds which move further afield have been reported breeding in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Northumberland, South Wales, and Northern Scotland. But the most surprising was F431440 . It was ringed as a nestling in 1990 in our woods, then on 4/05/91 it was caught in Noord Holland The Netherlands, then 33 days later it was caught in Jylland Denmark. It was identified as a male but no other details are given on the recovery sheet, but one assumes it was breeding.
The same year F431397 also a male, was caught at a nest box with 4 young on 28th June in North Germany. Both birds had been ringed as nestlings the previous year. That same year one was found dead in Northern Italy on May 15th. It is fascinating that these three long distance movements occurred in the same year, were they the result of some adverse winds on migration?
We look forward to finding out what has happened in our other woods this year.
John