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)

Friday 28 November 2008

The long and tortuous road of reading metal rings

This site opened its account, from what I can remember, with the last few numbers of a juvenile Shag ring, which was partly-read whilst perched on one of the scenically-challenging platforms by the waterfall in the south west corner of Heysham Harbour. The number was read in full by John Wood today.

The status of Shag in Lancashire was formerly summarised as "one-two storm-blown individuals per year, usually juveniles after autumnal gales". However, recent events at Heysham have completely changed the status of this species in Lancashire, with double-figure counts in two of the last three autumn/early winters. Similarly, two other recent years have produced at least 5 individuals and it is clear that, for an unknown reason, this species is increasing both at Heysham and around the nearby Walney and Rossall inshore areas. This is definitely not due to an increased severity of autumnal gales, quite the opposite (see recent Leach's Petrel status [excluding the December 2006 wreck]). Indeed, this autumn's influx, involving a minimum of 11 individuals, took place during quite benign conditions in late August/September, perhaps just a short movement by part of an already substantial gathering around Walney Island.

As can be seen in the recently published Lancashire County Avifauna, most of the ringed autumnal storm-blown juvenile Shags have originated from Puffin Island on Anglesey. However, this is the first ringed bird out of at least 30 examined at Heysham during the last three years and this suggests that a majority might not be from this "well-ringed" source.

Just in case there has been more than one bearing a ring, the first date when the ring was (in the event conclusively!) part-read is used for the 'formal' ringing details. Therefore, no vague presumptions concerning a ringed juvenile Shag which had been present since late August:

Ringed: Puffin Island, Anglesey Pullus (from brood of 3) 7/6/08
Read in field: Heysham Harbour area: at least 26/10/08-at least 28/11/08

Note that the reason the partly-read ring was (after some research) confidently ascribed to this individual was due to the fact the bird was aged, and known to be bearing a ring issued and fitted in 2008. Its still nice to get the fully-read ring in the field, however.......just in case there is a future query!

Thanks to all involved in documenting this bird

Sunday 23 November 2008

How Long do Garden Birds Live?

A recent re-trap of a six year old Long-tailed Tit and a five year old Chaffinch at my feeding station made me trawl our data base to find out if these was our oldest birds of these species. Our record is a Chaffinch which was still going strong at 8 years and 324 days and a Long-tailed Tit 7 years and 287 days.

This made me search for the oldest records we have for other garden birds. The results are as follows

Blue Tit 7 years and 120 days

Long-tailed Tit 7 years and 287 days

Robin 7 years and 95 days

Greenfinch 5 years and 96 days

Wren 4 years 361 days

Blackbird 6 years 270 days

But the real surprise was a Great Tit at 11 years and 97 days! Quite a senior citizen! The British record for Great Tit is 26 days short of 14 years!

Almost all these birds were retraps so still going strong. Of course these are the exceptions. The life expectancy of a newly fledged Great Tit can be measured in months not years. One of the most important aspects of ringing is that it allows the calculation of survival rates. These of course do vary from year to year depending on weather and or food availability and of course predation. But a pair of Great tits can produce 10+ young per year so to keep the population stable only 2 need to survive to breed next year

Monday 17 November 2008

Wintering Redwing

My impression is that there are far fewer Redwing so far this winter in the Warton/Silverdale area than in previous early winters, despite an abundance of berries. This raises the question do Redwing return to the same wintering area in successive winters? A few certainly do for last winter we retrapped a bird in the same roost that it had been ringed in the previous winter.

However our recoveries of Redwing ringed in mid winter show conclusively that they can winter here in one year and choose a different wintering area the next. To date we have had five examples of birds which have certainly changed their wintering area from one year to the next. One moved to Portugal, two to Italy and one to Greece. But the most outstanding recovery was bird with ring no CA 82363 it was ringed on 28.12.63 in a roost near Carnforth and recovered on 4.2.67 near Archivan Azerbaijan at 38 32 N 48'49E Not far from the Caspian Sea and almost in Iran. The down side is that all 5 were shot.

We have several other recoveries that show that Redwing can move south and west during a cold winter with recoveries in Ireland and France and also that birds ringed in autumn can winter further south in France.

Friday 14 November 2008

An average Ringed Plover

A colour-ringed Ringed Plover was noted today during the final act of the Teal Bay to Ocean Edge WeBS count as it resided on the shingle next to Ocean Edge saltmarsh. A bit embarrassing this. Cannot remember actually checking this elusive little wintering gang of Ringed Plover before for colour-rings, yet the age of the bird and the tendency to be pretty habitual re-winter sites suggests we may have overlooked it!

NW23526 Adult female
Ringed as a nestling at Snettisham, Norfolk on 16/7/04
Subsequently nested at Snettisham in at least 2005, 2006 and 2008
Seen: Cockersands on 30/9/07 by Ian Hartley
Seen: Ocean Edge caravan park foreshore 19/9/08

At this stage, it was not possible to be certain whether it was wintering locally, as September dates could still indicate a bird still on passage. However, todays sighting (with the "usual gang of wintering Ringed Plover") surely confirms a prospective wintering bird:

Seen: Ocean Edge caravan park foreshore 14/11/08

The Migration Atlas, referring to (winter) destinations of birds ringed in the Snettisham area states: "whilst some adults remain on the breeding grounds, others travel as far north as Lothian, as far south as Brittany and as far west as Ireland". Therefore the above bird could perhaps be described as wintering at "an average location"!

Tuesday 11 November 2008


The recent spectacular increase in Starlings roosting at Leighton Moss suggests a mass arrival of continental birds. I checked the ringing recoveries for Starlings for our area ringed in winter and recovered in the breeding season. They have been reported from the following countries-
Russia 8 Belorussia 2 Estonia 6 Latvia 5 Lithuania 2 Finland 3 Poland 1
Sweden 10 Norway 7 Denmark 10 Germany 4 Netherlands 5 Belgium 1

A total of just over 9800 were ringed to produce these results. They were either ringed in gardens, when feeding, or in larger numbers at roosts near Garstang, Kirkby Lonsdale or Williamson's Park Lancaster. They either roosted in evergreen bushes or in pine plantations. We caught them in the later areas by crawling under the bushes until we found a gap then standing up and literally picking the birds off the branches. Quite an exciting evening but not for those who like to stay clean! These were mainly ringed in the 1960's and 70's. Has the migratory pattern changed since then? The recent arrival suggests that we are still getting a large number of birds wintering here.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Knot on Heysham Heliport

The recently published Lancashire Bird Report [obtainable from e.g. Leighton Moss shop] ringing section details the sightings history of several Knot bearing a mixture of colour rings and flags

There were a "few thousand" on the heliport seawall this morning (or earlier/later in the tide cycle on the Near Naze rocks (see photo)) and some high tides & gales coming up which should send them on to the heliport grass at high tide [but it only needs one Peregrine or dog walker to shift them].

Recent sightings at Heysham include birds ringed in Norway, Germany and The Netherlands with sightings of some of these birds in Iceland, Norway and back on the Waddensea. All these contribute massively to the understanding of the value of Morecambe Bay, the Waddensea and the Wash for wintering Knot, and how conditions here might affect the migration route back to their Canadian breeding grounds.

Likely colour ring combinations include 4 rings and a coloured flag, possibly with the flag above the 'knee'. Alternatively they might include a flag above the knee with three letters on. All sightings are of great value so please send any at Heysham to Richard.
c17,500 on the heliport/grass on 11/11/08

Friday 7 November 2008

Bearded Tits Survive the Wet Summer

We were rather fearful that the wet summer with the resulting high water levels at Leighton Moss may have resulted in poor survival for the Bearded Tits. The high water levels submerge their favourite feeding area- the reed litter. However yesterday a total of 36 birds were either caught or identified from their colour rings at the grit trays. A quick check through our ringing returns showed that of 49 free flying young birds marked in spring and early summer no less than 40 have been recorded this autumn- and there may be others yet to come. Of the ones caught yesterday their weights were well up to average and quite a few had visible fat in the tracheal pit.

In the 2000-2001 winter Leighton experienced its wettest autumn and early winter with water levels very high for almost 3 months. The breeding population of bearded tits dropped from a record 65 pairs in 2000 to just 7 in 2001. So you can appreciate our concern at the present high water levels. However the water is dropping rapidly now -lets hope for no more heavy rain.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Reed Bunting "control" and Long-tailed Tits

Anyone own up to Reed Bunting T939855 - caught at Middleton Industrial Estate (part of Heysham Obs) this morning?

Yet more unringed Long-tailed Tits caught this morning (76 for the autumn & it could have been a lot more with specific targeting). Long-tailed Tits nested successfully during the decent weather in earlyish spring, in contrast to many species whose ringing totals at Heysham are well below average e.g. Wren, Dunnock, Robin. There have been some interesting Long-tailed Tit movements from the passage flocks caught at Heysham, with many behaving in 'irruptive' fashion, notably two re-caught to the north-east of Perth in the same autumn!
Chris Batty has ringed over 100 this autumn at a seafront site at Knott End - all flocks heading S/W with no retraps

..............and right on cue just received from the BTO:

"........Also just over the North Sea, we've heard of very big movements of tits, with 12,650 Blue Tits recorded at Falsterbo on one day! Also moving in numbers are Long-tailed Tits, with counts of over 100 at several sites on the British coast, though their origins are largely unknown. These birds are moving though, and at Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire 131 were ringed in the middle week of the month. Further south, five of these birds were then caught at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory, where 186 have been ringed this autumn. It's not just along the east coast either, as we also heard of very large numbers arriving at Bardsey Bird Observatory, Gwynedd, at the end of the month."
and more evidence of unusual movement from another Irish Sea site:
"Seven were at Copeland (Island) Bird Observatory on 9th October (five of them were ringed). The last CBO record of this species was in 1961."
Photo from LDBWS photo archive & by John Bateman. Thanks for this.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Goldfinches Galore

Many garden bird watchers have reported a marked increase in Goldfinches coming to their feeders over the past few years. Usually they report them in small numbers with anything over 5 together being unusual.

This past year has been exceptional. To give you some idea as to how many may be visiting your garden. Andrew Cadman in his small garden in Over Kellet has ringed just over 150 this year a hundred of these this autumn. The most Andrew has seen at once in his garden is 5.

From Andrew's ringing we are beginning to find out a little about the movements of this increasing bird. An April ringed bird was found a month later on the Island of Islay off the West Scottish coast. While another ringed in November in Nottigham was found in Over Kellet almost exactlly a year later.
Photo taken from LDBWS site & by Steph Sims. Thanks for this.

Successful twittering

A metal-only ringed Twite was trapped at Heysham north harbour wall this morning. The BTO were contacted as a public relations exercise so that the harbour people, who kindly allowed access to the ringing site despite a major dredger-recovery operation, could be informed of the details. Thanks to Jez for accessing the BTO computer:

Ringed: Walberswick, Suffolk on 23/12/06 as a 1st calendar year female

This raises some interesting questions. The Suffolk coast is the "normal destination" for a lot of the Pennine-ringed Twite, with the nearest ringing station to here being Cant Clough, near Burnley. Was this a young Scottish bird which located some Pennine birds on its first autumn migration and ended up wintering with them? Is it now an older and wiser adult which has migrated with other inner Hebridean Twite to the "usual winter haunts" along the Lancashire (north of the Wyre) & Cumbrian coasts? Or is it the other way round - a Pennine bird which migrated "correctly" in its first autumn but has ended up at Heysham at a mid-stage of the Twite autumn migration (they are a late October-mid November migrant here)? Will it therefore reorientate to the Suffolk or similar coast, or will it stay with the Scottish birds? There have been a few known examples of Pennine-ringed birds ending up with the coastal Lancashire/Cumbrian flocks but the vast majority of these have been from the south Ribble shore, although there has been at least one Pennine-ringed bird seen as far north-west as the Duddon. There have also been two sightings of Heysham-ringed birds (of unknown origin) on the Lincolnshire coast in the winter following late October/early November ringing.

The relationship between Pennine and inner Hebridean Twite is therefore not as simple as was first thought in the initial two years of the ringing programme. The 'complications' started when ringing commenced on the south Ribble where birds of Pennine origin seem to be in the majority.

The excellent ringing effort by Alan this morning also discovered that there were TWO with the Duddon (Askam) yellow site ring and they were duly trapped and specifically identified. They were ringed either last Thursday or during the previous week. 52 new birds, 11 retraps, 2 Duddon-ringed and one Walberswick-ringed birds were caught [plus half a dozen Linnet]. The low percentage of retraps fits in with field observations made yesterday and was therefore not due to a net-shyness bias
13th November 2008
Todays sightings suggested two flocks, a more resident flock comprising 20-25 birds with the vast majority ringed plus a flock which might be tidally related i.e. appear when Ocean Edge saltmarsh covered. 77 seen, at least 16 unringed, plus a Duddon bird ringed this autumn (probably one of the two already trapped) and Duddon-ringed bird from autumn 2006 (the first time this has been seen)

Tuesday 4 November 2008

The Heysham Czech-ringed Med Gull

An above the knee metal ring, especially with the "Praha" & "EX" part of the address/ring number reduced in size, is a bit of a challenge. This bird was first seen on the outfalls and considered a non-starter. However, unlike most juveniles, which move on at the end of August, this bird stayed and discovered the lucrative scraps along the north harbour wall. It became a 'Bread Med' and the ring number fairly easy to read.

Ringing history:
Ringed: Chomoutov, Olomoucky, CZECH REPUBLIC Pullus 3/6/03
Seen Heysham harbour and area 24/8/03-26/3/04
Seen Heysham harbour and area 22/7/04-9/3/05
Seen Heysham harbour and area 20/7/05-6/3/06
Seen Heysham harbour and area 8/7/06-6/3/07
Seen Heysham harbour and area 4/8/07-9/3/08
Seen Heysham harbour and area 12/7/08-present

Note the consistent spring departure dates once it was 2nd S/Ad.
Jon Barber's pic from the Heysham Obs archive of a group of Meds & one BH Gull on the north harbour wall - the bird in question is the only adult! Thanks for this Jon.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Water Rails on the Move

The recent spate of excellent sightings along the path edges at Leighton Moss reminded me of the two outstanding recoveries of this species from our area. The most I have ever seen a Water Rail fly is about 50 metres across the arm of a pool. Then the flight looks weak with the legs trailing.I have also seen them swim across dykes rather than take flight. You would think that a bird which spends almost all its life ferreting around at the bottom of a reed bed would not be capable of sustained flight. Not a bit of it.

A First winter bird ringed at Heysham Nature Reserve in November 1990, and retrapped during the winter 1990/1, was found dead the following June at 55 48 N 28 0 E near Minsk in Bylorussia a distance of almost 2500 kms. Another ringed in North Holland in October 1997 was found dying at Leighton Moss almost 4 and a half years later.

So a bird which flies only rarely for much of the year can take to sustained flight at migration times. In human terms it rather like a runner spending all his time in the Pub and then going straight out and winning a marathon!

John Wilson Thanks to David Mower for the Photo.

The value of a single colour ring for each site

A quick check of the Twite on the nyger seed during the chaos on the Heysham north harbour wall this lunchtime (a mixture of police/fire/sightseers attending/staring at a sinking dredger) revealed a yellow ring above the split colour.

In the micro-seconds available before the flock was flushed, this immediately indicated it was not a Heysham bird (pale blue above assorted colours) and indeed it comes from perhaps the most logical source, the Duddon estuary area in Cumbria.

The current details should indicate which winter period it was ringed. Unfortunately an attempt to pin it down by reading the metal number, when it returned to the seed a few minutes later, was foiled by a loud 'can you get out of the way' just as I was focusing the 50 x wide angle. Further human activity indicated it was not worth hanging around. This bird should be traceable on the last three digits of the ring if anyone gets a chance.........or it appears in the hand during the next ringing effort!

Unfortunately, due to the large number of different colour-ring sequences being used on Twite, we have had to resort to split (i.e. a narrow band of two colours) on the lower colour ring. Feedback from birders suggests they have great difficulty discerning the split colours through telescopes/binoculars and this was indeed the case today wih the lower 'pale' colour, despite 'point-blank' range.

Please DO report any Twite you do see with colour rings, even if you can only read the site ring. Some of the recent Heysham birds have had the site ring placed below the split ring. Thanks

Pete Marsh