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 31 March 2011

Feeders in conifer plantations

We have been rather puzzled by the erratic nature of the finches in Thrushgill spruce/larch plantation with respect to targeting the nyger and sunflower hearts. I think we have solved the problem! The trouble is that perfect ringing conditions of warmth, stillness plus a bit of sun have prompted the opening up of the larch and spruce cones and hordes of noisy redpolls, siskins and bramblings have been gorging themselves on the accessible food. No amount of seductive taping would bring the birds down to the feeders, they were not interested However, as soon as some wet cloudy weather appeared, down the birds descended on to the feeders. This has been an 'all or nothing' process as presumably has been the situation between either closed or open cones, with no 'half-open' ones to retain a proportion of birds in the treetops Therefore, after a full dry & warm week with the nyger seed untouched, a visit yesterday afternoon, following 24 hours of unsettled weather, saw the nyger seed almost all eaten (48 hours since previous check). Then the following 23 hours saw ALL yesterdays 4 x nyger feeder top-up eaten by 1500hrs this afternoon! Trouble is that you cannot catch birds in a F6-7 wind! Hopefully there will be a small weather window whilst the birds are still around. Pete Marsh

Saturday 26 March 2011

Very Red Crossbill

John and Richard 'borrowed' my ringing site at Thrushgill this morning and they came up with this beastie, probably a 2CY
Pete Marsh

Thursday 24 March 2011

Meadow Pipit

Following discussion last year on ageing spring Meadow Pipit (& pics), 5 out of 6 ringed this morning were clearly 2CY on the basis of retained juvenile greater coverts. The other was an adult (all coverts, tail shape etc), but cautiously left as a '4' The 8 caught this morning exhibited a wide variety of spring plumage options 1) 2 x all feathers fresh adult-type, including all coverts and perceived adult-type tail 2) one with e.g. a mixture of old adult-type and new (adult-type) median coverts and perceived adult-type tail 3) one with e.g. a full set of 2CY median coverts and 1CY/2CY tail 4) 4 with a mixture of old 2CY and new adult-type median coverts and 1CY/2CY tail Obviously 3) & 4) are '5's. However, can 2) be definitely assigned as a '6'? Especially as the older feathers look too worn to be a result of a two-stage replacement of juvenile median coverts during late autumn/winter. Am I too cautious ageing 1) & 2) as 'probable adult' but safer to call '4's?

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Redpolls and Siskins on the Move

Following on from the recent posts about Redpolls I thought it was time for an over=view of the group's activities with these species so far this year. We have been catching at four feeding stations, ringing over 250 Siskin and ca 200 Redpoll since January. To date we have caught eight Redpoll and four Siskin that have been ringed elsewhere.

Pride of place goes to the Stavanger (Norway)ringed Redpoll caught at Thrushgill. But the local movements recorded suggest quite a mobile population with four Lesser Redpolls moving between our feeding stations. Of these two moved 34 kms, one within just three days,

We await with interest receiving the ringing details of the other birds. That is four each of Redpoll and Siskin along with two Goldfinch caught at the same time.


Tuesday 22 March 2011

Ring more Great Tits!

A Great Tit ringed in Winder Wood, Roeburndale as a pulli last year was retrapped near Wray (also Roeburndale) at the weekend.

It might not sound too earth-shattering a question, but where do the Great Tits all go in winter? Winter observations suggest the aren't present in the upland woods, but they aren't retrapped elsewhere in the same way as Blue Tits (which can show surprising movements from the Lune Valley woods to lowland urban areas.)

So if they don't move, and if they don't stay in the upland woods ....... what do they do?

perhaps its time to question the old assumptions ... or to return to the hibernation hypothesis!

maybe we might learn something by ringing all the pulli we can find!


More redpolls

Today's catch reinforced yesterdays data, which showed that, after a period of late winter random age/sex selection (or at least equal numbers of males and unsexed 2CY), the start of the (northbound?) migration has seen virtually all the captures being males, with adults in the majority. This is logical with a lot of species and spring migration, territory staking etc etc, so why should Lesser Redpolls be any different?

Another 'proper' Mealy this morning - wing 79mm and a great bird for showing interested local residents the difference between Mealy and Lesser - it even allowed prolonged views in the field. The less said about the mobile phone pics, taken in blindingly bright sunlight, the better!

Need some help this week, please, as I'm very conscious of the fact a good migration morning was missed at Heysham today & I cant take the whole week off work ..........might as well keep going with this study as its pretty interesting, with new birds every morning (except last Saturday) and will hopefully 'dovetail' with the later coastal mig passage at Heysham (and Knott End) in April/early May


Pete Marsh

Monday 21 March 2011

Redpolls are on the move

A bit of a disaster on Saturday morning (19th), with no birds visiting the feeder (which is on private land) in the first 3.5 hours of the day in clear, sunny conditions. Howerver, a visit in the drizzle to 'top-up' yesterday afternoon (20th) saw a 'white ball' on the feeder - a fluffy, feathery Arctic Redpoll - at the 'white' end of the spectrum, but size-wise fitting Coues, along with at least 17 other redpolls including 2 Mealy.

The ringing session this morning - a little too windy to be ideal - was quite productive, but no sign of the Arctic. A flock of 30 redpolls, including at least one Mealy (but apparently not the Arctic) circled up high and headed north as soon as the weather cleared at 0800hrs. Others remained and a visit to the net saw what appeared to be a couple of retraps amongst a small catch. The 'retraps' were a Norwegian-ringed Lesser and a Lesser ringed by Mark Breaks at Rishton, near Blackburn, three days ago.........with an unringed Mealy sandwiched between them!

Out of a catch of 17 redpoll spp, only two were retraps, both from the 'early days' and possibly birds intending to remain locally. I am absolutely certain we would have seen the Arctic Redpoll, in at least the treetops, had it still been present

So, even thought the often very pronounced coastal Lancashire spring Lesser Redpoll passage hasn't started yet, they are certainly on the move inland.

Pete Marsh

Friday 18 March 2011


We've been requested to keep it short and sweet following research on (lack of) concentration spans

I wonder what the odds are on extracting three consecutive small passerines from a mist net and all being 'controls' (i.e. ringed elsewhere). That momentous event happened today (= 17/3) at Thrushgill

L444030 & L713637 Lesser Redpolls, the latter was ringed at Rishton, near Blackburn in January

X441292 Goldfinch - preliminary research suggests this may have come from 'down south'!

Saturday 12 March 2011

Waxwings Move Out and Return

From late October through to early January there was an unprecedented influx of Waxwings into North Lancashire. Colour ringing returns from birds ringed near Aberdeen by the Grampian RG suggested a fairly rapid movement through. The best example of this relating to our area was a bird colour ringed at Aberdeen on 31/10 sighted at Leighton Moss on 14/12 and re-sighted ten days later at Ely in Cambridgeshire. We have just received details of a bird the group ringed on 30/10 at the start of the invasion it was killed by a cat at Chelmsford Essex 358 km SE on 18/01.

However birds are starting to return there was a flock of 42 in Morecambe today. If more turn up it will be well worth while searching for colour rined birds.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Thrushgill feeding station

Please note that there is no general access to this site in what is a peaceful cul-de-sac. If you do visit, please can you reduce the number of vehicles accessing beyond the turning at Botton Mill to an absolute minimum e.g. park & share at e.g. Wray tearooms

Average to reasonable mobile phone pics of Crossbill (thanks Louise)
Terrible mobile phone pics of Mealy redpoll

A feeding station was set up at Thrushgill, following permission from Scottish Forests (thanks Simon). There are masses of feeding stations in the upper Hindburn with nearby Lower Thrushgill surely having one of the highest densities of wild bird food in relation to human population. Therefore the aim was certainly not to catch huge numbers of hungry waifs at a remote location.

A redpoll flock had been seen intermittently and tantalising views in the tree-tops suggested at least two Mealy Redpolls were present, one a very frosty and grey bird. Therefore the aim of the feeding station was simply to try and bring to ground level as many redpolls as possible with the hope that some would be frosty and possibly even whiter!

A sheltered mist-met ride was constructed amongst wind-affected larches in various stages of falling over. This included the stunning discovery that sawing through fallen tree-trunks can give you a nasty uppercut as the roots decide to return to their upright position! The food initially concentrated on "obvious" wild bird seed mix in both feeders and scattered around. The aim was to create a 'flow' of birds which would be noticed by the redpolls and in turn they would locate the less ostentatious nyger feeders

The rapid 'flow' of birds certainly did happen! The start of the operation on 20th February saw the last stages of the flock/feeding station winter routine of the local Coal Tits. 40 were caught on the first visit and the subsequent two visits saw a mixture of a few new birds, a few retraps and a lot of net-wise visitors to the feeders. Then they disappeared! Wanderings along the access track saw many of them singing and starting to hold territory and showing little interest in lengthy journeys to a feeder

The distribution and behaviour of the small finches saw mixed flocks of up to about 80 (usually about 35), mainly Siskin with a few redpolls, remaining in the larch canopy and feeding on the seeds. Small numbers did visit the nyger and sunflower heart feeders, but most of them stayed feeding on the larches, despite use of a redpoll tape. Indeed, the tape was forgotten on one day and this made no difference to the numbers visiting the feeder or the catch on that day. Therefore, given this alternative, indeed preferred, food source, lengthy netting sessions were unlikely to pay dividends and the routine became a short visit to top the feeders up along with a couple of mist net rounds

Nine short visits have been made to date, taking advantage of some friendly weather before things become much more unsettled from Wednesday 9th March. There remains a possibility that more of the significant crossbill population might be tempted in the region of the nets and a dustbin lid full of water has been "constructed"

One very obvious Mealy Redpoll has been caught (3rd March) and a few grotty 'mobile in one hand, bird in the other' pics were taken (see above). The age ratios of the Siskins were interesting with far more adults than I was expecting or you tend to get at urban feeders on passage - are these local breeding adults? The redpolls were as expected with the usual degree of caution over sexing probable long-winged females:

Lesser Redpoll age/sex ratios:
3 x adult male, 2 x adult female, 12 x 2CY* male, 7 x 2CY female, 7 x unspecified 2CY, probably longer-winged females. Therefore the sex ratio is probably about 50:50 and the age ratio very much biased towards 2CY at 26:5

Siskin age/sex ratios:
7 x adult female, 13 x adult male, 8 x 2CY male, 13 x 2CY female, single unaged male and female. Therefore a far higher proportion of adults than lesser redpoll with almost equal numbers of adult & 2CY

Controls comprised a Lesser Redpoll ringed at nearby Wray in December 2010 and a Siskin with someone else's rings. Just four Siskin and four Lesser Redpoll retrapped. One Lesser Redpoll was unfortunately terminated by a window in Lower Thrushgill a few days after ringing

Other species ringed comprised: 1 Common Crossbill, 8 Chaffinch (all males), 5 Great Tit, 1 Nuthatch, 2 Blackbird, 57 Coal Tit (8 of these retrapped), 7 Robin, 17 Blue Tit, 2 Wren, 2 Dunnock and a single Mealy or Common Redpoll

*2CY = aged as second calender year = born in its first calender year = 2010 [formerly known as 'first winter', 'first year' etc]. Euring code '5' (from '3' prior to 31/12/10).

Pete Marsh

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Siskins Pass Through

We are starting to catch good numbers of Siskins at three of our feeding stations. This movement is quite typical of this time of year and we have already caught two birds carrying rings from elsewhere.

From past ringing we know that many of these birds have wintered further south with birds ringed in Somerset and Cheshire in winter caught here in March.

The destination of our birds is mainly Scotland, with eight recoveries mainly in the breeding season, one of them only nine days after ringing, so the movement can be quite fast.

That birds from further afield also pass through is proved by a recovery in south Sweden. This bird was killed by a cat 58 days after ringing on 27th February. Another bird ringed in March was found in Belgium in November.

With the Siskins are smaller numbers of Lesser Redpolls,