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 24 December 2013

Bearded Tit End of Season Report

This is the 22nd year of our study at Leighton Moss RSPB. It was an interesting year with good productivity and survival.

 Breeding Population and Survival
This year we have either re-trapped or re-sighted a total of 15 adult females and 11 adult males. Past experience is that we always miss a few and this would suggest a breeding population of ca 18 pairs. Survival this year has been most interesting.  Of 31 adults known to be alive in 2012, 15 were present in the breeding season of 2013.  This gives a crude survival rate of 49%. The lower numbers of grit tray sightings obtained this year has probably reduced the numbers of adult re-sightings. However 49% survival rate is about average for adults in years with reasonable winter weather.  However of 17 juveniles ringed in the 2012 breeding season no less than 12 survived to the 2013 breeding season, a survival rate of 77% and the best survival rate yet recorded for juveniles and only the third year in the 22 years of the study that juvenile survival has been better than adult survival.  Overall this gives a survival rate of 60%, one of the highest yet recorded.

 Productivity was much better this year with 48 ringed although one un-ringed bird was seen in late October.  After a cold start, which surprisingly did not delay breeding the weather was  good with a low water level  so no flooding out of natural nests.  Of 21 nestlings ringed 16 were caught as  juveniles so survival at this stage was good.
Grit Tray Sightings
A total of 191 sightings of colour ringed birds were obtained between August 24th and December 17th on the grit trays.  A total of 54 different birds were recorded, 24 adults and 29 juveniles. Total sightings were 114 down on 2012 probably due to the mild autumn with large numbers of insects present and a low water level, allowing access to the substrate.


Sunday 22 December 2013

Will More Twite Come or Not?

Our Twite ringing project has taken a few knocks so far this winter.  Very few birds have arrived at Heysham Harbour this autumn in comparison with previous years. Maximum numbers so far have only been around 17 ( up to 81 last winter at this time). Flocks are present on the coast to the south of us and on Walney, although none has yet appeared at a ringing site on the Duddon Estuary.  Either we have been bypassed this year or possibly there may be more to come if the weather to the north delivers a cold spell.

The storm of 5/12 did not help the situation as the feeding area was severely disrupted by flood water; the area was described elsewhere as a mini-replica of the Grand Canyon.  Some renovation of the area allowed feeding to continue and a regular flock of up to 50 finches comprising Goldfinch, Linnet and single figure numbers of Twite have been present.

This morning saw the site half flooded again.  A couple of hours with pick and shovel resulted in a pair of channels that will hopefully divert water around the feeding area.  The 'upstream' end of the area was also built up above the suroundings to try to deflect water as well.  Following this disturbance fresh seed attracted a flock of similar numbers of finches within minutes.  They had clearly been watching the procedings from nearby.  The make up of Goldfinch, Linnets (and Twite?) was not determined owing to the very strong wind (wind chill recorded at -6C) causing eyes to water copiously and binoculars to buffet!

Whether or not this work is a lasting solution is doubtful unless the weather calms down considerably.

Hopefully things will improve after this week and ringing might again be a possibility.  Note that vehicle access along most of the harbour wall is prohibited for safety reasons until the storm damage to harbour installations is rectified by the harbour authorities.


Friday 20 December 2013

Recent Recoveries

The highlights of the latest batch of recoveries were four in France and one from Latvia.

The Latvia one was extraordinary, a Black-headed gull  ringed as a nestling in 1995. When I first looked at the recovery sheet I thought we had a record long liver, only to find that it was one that we read the  ring of in the field three times in the winters of 1996 and 97! Someone must have been searching the archives.

The French recoveries were three Sedge Warblers in  August and a Reed Warbler in early September all along the French west coast. The Reed Warbler and one of the Sedge Warblers being caught by French ringers at the same site.  This brings the total  of Sedge Warblers ringed by the group and reported from France to 47 along with 18 Reed Warblers. Interesting difference in the recovery rate of these two warblers. We have ringed to date 17,371 Reed Warblers and  13,046 Sedge  Warblers  but have foreign recoveries of 59 Sedge Warblers against 36 Reed Warblers. However we have  14 Reed Warblers reported in Iberia and North Africa  but only five Sedge Warblers there, reflecting the different migration strategies of these two wetland warblers.

Other recoveries included a Lesser Redpoll ringed on spring passage on May Ist and reported 216 km south in Northants on October 31. Fits in nicely with many other recoveries showing Redpolls wintering in southern England. A juvenile Reed Bunting moved 109 km SE by mid October.


Sunday 24 November 2013

Bearded Tits and Grit-The Season to Date

Its been a rather frustrating season to date compared with the previous nine years of our study of gritting behavior. This weekend was typical, 15 birds (all colour ringed) on the trays on Saturday,  so full of hope I canceled plans to ring and spent Sunday morning watching empty grit trays on what appeared to be a really suitable morning-calm and cold. Frustrating to say the least.

However a  quick look at the sightings to date produced some interesting findings. In total to date we have recorded 176 sightings of colour ringed birds. This compares with 290 for the same period last year. But there are more young birds this year (45 compared with 17 in 2012). However we have recorded 25 different adults and 28 birds of the year visiting the trays this year, compared with 29 adults and 11 young birds in 2012. Effort have been very similar,  so we have recorded more individual birds this year but they are obviously visiting the trays less often. In 2012 one bird visited on 22 days. This year  the largest numbers of days by an individual  was just 10. I suggested in a recent posting that the mild weather and low water levels may be the reason for the  lower use of the trays

Overall though survival this year to date has been good. We ringed  21 nestlings and 16 of these survived to at least 2 months. Of the 45 juveniles ringed, 38  at least survived to early August and 32 of these have been recorded post moult.

Survival over last winter has also been good for  of the 17 birds ringed as juveniles in 2012 no fewer that 13 have been recorded  this year, a crude survival rate of 78%.


Wednesday 20 November 2013

Recent Recoveries

The latest batch of recoveries included some interesting movements-
A Willow Warbler ringed near Carlisle at 08.45 on  on 6th of August was caught at Leighton 80 km south 25 hours later while a Chiffchaff ringed at Heysham on 28th September was caught at Orfordness in Suffolk eight days later, a distance of 370 kms.

A little more usual were two Sedge Warblers in France bringing our total of Sedge Warblers reported on migration through France to 43. A juvenile had traveled 705 kms in 13 days.

This late summer/autumn has been exceptional for the numbers of Mediterranean Gulls frequenting especially the Heysham power Station Outfalls. The rings or colour rings were noted on four birds. Three had been ringed as nestlings in The Netherlands and one in Germany. These now bring the totals of birds reported in our area to The Netherlands 6, Belgium 4, France 2, Germany 1  and Poland  4. All except two of he Polish birds were ringed as nestling's.  Many of them have returned in successive years with others moving to other wintering areas.

Our ringing of both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll has increased recently with Mark and Dave contributing good numbers in Bowland. A Lesser Redpoll ringed there on May 5th was caught in Glen  Clova in Aungus on 8th of October a movement of 342 km North. We have ringed similar numbers of these two species over the years but this is only our 4th Lesser Redpoll in Scotland. By contrast we now have 35 Siskin from Scotland including one in this batch in Lanarkshire.

A Goldfinch ringed here on 15 of October was caught, presumably in its wintering area at Ascot 330 km SSE on the 3rd of March. We have several other similar recoveries.


Sunday 10 November 2013

First Twite Captures Under Our Own Colour Scheme

Over the last few days the first arrivals of passage/wintering Twite have been present at Heysham Harbour.  This morning finally saw weather that was suitable for a catching attempt.
Three whoosh net operations resulted in the capture of 21 Linnet (including 4 retraps), 14 Goldfinch (including 5 retraps and one colour ringed control from Walney Island, which I understand was ringed there on 29/09/2013)  and 9 Twite comprising 5 new birds, 2 retraps and 2 controls.
The Twite controls consisted of another individual ringed at Machrihanish Bird Observatory in autumn 2012 and a returning bird ringed on Sanda Island (04/07/2012).
The 5 new birds were the first to be ringed under our own colour scheme that identifies each individual.  An example of the arrangement is illustrated here:

Posted after lengthy difficulties in getting access to the blog again!!   ajd

Sunday 3 November 2013

Bearded Tits October Grit Tray Sightings

This October has turned out to be one of the  most intriguing and at times most frustrating of our nine year study of the gritting behavior of this charismatic species. Despite a good population with 45 young birds ringed this year and at least 26 colour ringed adults identified, sightings on the trays have been the lowest since our study started. The average number of October sightings in past years has been 245, this year we have recorded only 107 despite much effort.

Why the difference? Well  this has been the warmest October since the study started with no frost and an abundance of insects- the main food of Bearded Tits in summer.  So possibly they have not had to turn to what is normally their main food at this time of year- reed seed. this is much harder to digest than insects and they need grit in their gizzard  to grind it up. Interestingly the only days numbers have been present has been on the cooler calm days. One of these fortunately coincided with the filming by the BBC Autumn Watch team when 15 birds were present.

The other difference this year is that the water level is much lower and large areas of dry  substrate, normally under water are accessible to the birds and they could possibly be getting grit there although there appears to be very little grit in the deep peaty soil.

Despite the lower numbers  there were several interesting sightings both of adults which have retained their pair bonds, in one case over three years, and of first year birds which have established pairs  shortly after fledging and are still together.


Thursday 24 October 2013

Warbler Update

I always find it interesting to compare ringing totals with the previous years as with similar effort from year to year they give an indication of productivity. To early to do this for most species but  with all the data in it is possible to look at warbler trends in this year which saw  poor weather early in the breeding season but better weather later.

Blackcap at 116 is just slightly up on both 2012 (102) and the five year average of 97. Chiffchaff at  180 has a similar trend, up on 2012(159). The species which has seen the greatest decline though is Willow Warbler with 349 ringed this year compared with 510 in 2012 and a five year average of 476.  This fits in well with the general feeling that the breeding population was down this year. On the surveyed part of Warton Crag the breeding population was down from 29 pairs in 2012 to 21 this year. By contrast Whitethroat were up from  just 70 in 2012 to 173 this year as were Lesser Whitethroat from 30 last year to 48 this year.

Two other species which several members of the group have commented on as being scarce this autumn are Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest. So far this autumn we have caught only 37 Long tails compared with 108 in 2012 and 27 Goldcrest compared with 184 in 2012 but there is still time for these to appear.


Tuesday 15 October 2013

New Twite Colour Combinations

Hopefully, Twite will begin arriving on passage at Heysham Harbour very soon.  Colour ringing that has been undertaken here since 2002 will be continuing.  From now onwards however, a new scheme of site colour plus numbered colour rings will be utilised such that each bird will be uniquely identified.
The combination for this winter will be:  Right Leg below tarsal joint – Pale Blue over BTO Metal,  Left Leg below tarsal joint – White with dark engraved number between 1 and 99.
Sightings where the colours only are recorded will be attributable to Site and Season, but individual birds will be identifiable too if the numbers can be read (by telescope, digital camera etc) so I urge everyone to keep their eyes open for Twite wearing colour rings and report any combinations, and hopefully engraved numbers to Alan Draper.
All sightings will of course be eagerly awaited whether or not the colour ring numbers are known.  There will also hopefully be birds wearing the colour combinations from previous seasons (Right Leg: BTO Metal,  Left Leg: Pale Blue over a two-colour striped ring) and sightings of any of these are also very welcome.
Thank you in advance.

Monday 14 October 2013

Grey Wagtail Sighting

This year at Heysham we have trapped and colour ringed 82 Grey Wagtails during the autumn passage (including four trapped nearby at Middleton NR).  The first was caught on the 3rd September and the last just 6 days ago on the 8th October.  One individual has possibly chosen to remain in the area as it was ringed on 9th Sptember and retrapped on the 8th October - this has been the only retapped bird.

This morning, whilst at the hut, my phone bleeped with a text message from Skokholm Island telling me that one of 'our' birds had just been sighted there. The colour combination was that of a bird caught on the 4th October - the last but one caught this year.  This is the only sighting so far this season although it is early yet and hopefully more will be reported.


Reed Warbler End of Term Report

Have at last got round to working out the results of  our Reed Warbler Study for this year at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. This is run as a spin off to our main study of Bearded Tits. During the four months June to September we made 59 visits to our five sites spread  throughout the reed bed, around our normal number of visits over the past five years.

The adults were late in arriving this year and the population certainly appears to have been down on recent years. This year we caught 146 adults (88 new birds and 58 retraps from previous years). This compares to an average of 192 for the previous five years. The late arrival and an early departure may well have reduced the catch but even so the breeding  population does appear to have been lower.

However the excellent late spring and summer weather appears to have been good  for productivity for despite the apparent drop in the breeding population we ringed 743 young birds, well up on the 504 in the poor weather of 2012 and also up  on the five year average of 598.

Departure of adults was certainly earlier than usual, many apparently leaving in late July/ early  August. We only caught 15 adults in August compared to  an average of 70 over the past few years. I wonder if the late spring arrival  meant that  very few birds attempted a second brood. Also the good productivity suggested fewer re-lays after a failed attempt.

Sedge Warblers also appear to have  had excellent productivity with a catch of 326 compared with an average of 270 over the past five years.


Sunday 6 October 2013

It's All Go

A busy weekend with conditions good for mist netting at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. One highlight was the catching of two Reed Warblers. Numbers drop off steeply by October but these late birds are obviously getting ready to migrate. One  weighed 15.2 grams almost  half as much again as they weigh in summer and it's  breast was completely  covered in fat. The second bird weighed in at 13.8. I thought the first bird was the heaviest Reed Warbler we have ever caught but a quick search with the aid of IPMR brouught up one at 17.2 grams on October 6th 2005. The majority of the 105 birds ringed in previous Octobers were putting on weight but a few were as low as 9.9 grams.

Our main study species is Bearded Tit and with a catch of 17 birds and grit tray sightings of colour ringed birds we logged up a total of 33 different birds. Most satisfying was the catching of three previously un-ringed birds, from the pale iris colour we could age them as birds of the year- this brings our total of young birds for this year to 42, well up on last years poor show of just 17. Of the 33,  19 were this years birds and 14 were adults. This reflects the finding that adult birds start to visit the grit trays  a week to 10 days before the bulk of the juveniles.

Earlier in the autumn I reported on the low numbers of Blue Tits we were catching and surmised  that they were still in the woodlands where there was plenty of natural food.  Numbers have really started in pick up now in the scrub and reed bed and this was  reflected in our catch this weekend.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Bearded Tit Gritting Season Gets Underway

I have just returned from watching the superb sight of at least 11 Bearded Tits busily gritting on the specially provided grit trays just off the Public Causeway at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. They have started gritting this year a few days later than normal but it got underway with a bang with 13 birds seen on  September  30th. After a period of warm weather with lots of  insects around a sudden drop in temperature brought the birds to the trays so they have grit in their gizzards to grind up the reed seeds which they turn to once insects decline. In most previous years adults have been the first to visit followed by juveniles a few days later. But  this year about half the birds identified by their colour rings were  birds hatched this year and ringed as juveniles. Possibly this is a reflection of a better breeding season this year with 40 juveniles caught this year compared to only 17 in  2012.

The colour rings enable us to identify the birds individually as part of a population study which started when the Bearded Tits first colonised The Moss in 1973 with just one pair. To date we have identified  10 adult males and 11adult females but we usually pick up quite a few more during the gritting season. We identified two new ones yesterday.

Perhaps the most interesting sighting yesterday was a pair seen together on the tray at 11.45. This pair occupied one of our wigwam nest boxes this year. You  may have watched the RSPB Web Cam shots from the nest box in late April early May when they reared  four young. Last gritting season they visited the grit trays together on 13 occasions and were obviously a pair. They nested together  and have returned to the  grit trays together this season. This again shows that Bearded Tits once paired remain together throughout the year.

Today another pair which also used our nest boxes turned up again together  and had been seen together on the trays 10 times last autumn.

The RSPB Web Cam is now installed on one of the trays so you can watch in comfort. Today though they seemed a little camera shy and used the other two  tables more although on one occasion five were on view from the camera.

Thanks to Alan Gallagher for the photos

Monday 30 September 2013

Meadow Pipits and Skylark Ringing

Meadow Pipits  are one of our commonest passage migrants at this time of year. Their abundance is well shown by the counts at the three regularly manned Vis. Mig. stations in our area with over 12,000 being recorded in autumn last year, and as they move on a broad front, the numbers passing are obviously very large. By contrast Skylarks pass in much smaller numbers. Heysham  observations in the autumn passage period show this well with 3342 Meadow Pipits counted but just 84 Skylarks.

The Group has had our best year to date for ringing Meadow Pipits with just over 800 so far, mainly at three sites. Meadow Pipits respond well to a tape lure playing the spring song. At Heysham they are mist netted  in an open area with a background of bushes. Richard's team have caught them as a by-product of Swallow roost ringing in a maize field.  While whoosh netting on the Morecambe Bay coast by the Keer estuary is only undertaken on days when it is not suitable for mist netting at our reed bed sites.

This year  while whoosh netting we also played Skylark song as an experiment and in three morning  sessions we have caught seven birds. Doesn't sound a lot but these are the first Skylarks that the Group has ringed since 1995 and in the whole of Britain in 2012 only 79 fully grown birds were ringed! You don't often ring ca 9% of the national total in three mornings! We could have at least doubled the catch if we had set two whoosh nets as birds regularly dropped and stopped behind the net.

Would be interested to know if other ringers using whoosh nets have tried  to ring Skylarks.


Sunday 22 September 2013

Birds on the Move

This is the time of the great movement southward of our summer migrants- obvious to anyone who birds or especially rings on a regular basis. Recent recoveries shows how early some of our summer visitors start to leave. A juvenile Sand Martin caught in Spain on 28th July just 39 days after ringing  had flown 1300 km south. A juvenile Sedge Warbler was on the south coast in Sussex on 13 August just 5 days after ringing at Leighton Moss, a movement of 426 km SSE.

But not all summer visitors set off  south at first, a juvenile Garden Warbler ringed on 24 July sadly killed itself against a window in Kirkby Thore Cumbria 53 km NNE 9 days later. While a Reed Warbler ringed as a short tailed juvenile and obviously close to its birth place at Middleton NR was caught at Leighton Moss 38 days later, 18 km to the  north.  Most probably these are just part of a random dispersal that takes place before the on set of the southerly movement.

Other recoveries included 4 Sand Martins ringed in Sussex on migration and found breeding in   the River Lune colonies. The brings the total of Sand Martins we have had reported in Sussex to a staggering 124 with the bulk  occurring there in August.

Two Siskin caught while breeding in Dumfries and Galloway brings to nine the Siskin we have had reported from this area.

Sunday 8 September 2013

10,000th Swallow at maize field roost

Since 2004 North Lancs Ringing Group have ringed swallows every autumn in a maize field near Hornby.  Initially we started ringing there as part of the swallow roost project and more recently to continue marking some birds passing through the North West of England.  The numbers of birds ringed each years varies massively due to productivity and autumnal weather conditions.  This year we have caught just over 800 with a few weeks of swallow ringing left before the maize is harvested.  When entering the last visits data I noticed we had passed the milestone of 10,000 swallows ringed. 

Below are the totals for all years since 2004:

Year Total new New Juvs New Adult % adult Controls Recovered
2004 1585 1556 29 2% 6 8
2005 1811 1742 69 4% 7 5
2006 1409 1335 74 5% 2 3
2007 1247 1180 67 5% 1 3
2008 533 507 26 5% 1 1
2009 371 337 34 9%
2010 1213 1186 27 2% 1 2
2011 440 362 78 18%
2012 612 551 61 10% 1
2013 873 860 13 1% 1

10094 9616 478 5% 20 25

Ringing swallows at a roost is always going to produce low numbers of retraps as 95% of the birds ringed are juveniles.  Likewise as Hornby is a fair way north we are less likely to catch birds that have been ringed previously compared to sites further south on the Swallow migration route.

The map below shows the origin of all the birds previously ringed that have been caught at Hornby.  Markers with a green P have been ringed in the nest, red J have been ringed as juveniles with the same year and finally purple As are birds that have been ringed as juveniles but we have caught in a subsequent year as an adult.

The second and third maps show where birds that have been ringed at Hornby have been recovered or recaught. The green J markers are the sites where birds have been caught in the same year and the red As are where birds have been recaught in subsequent years.  One map shows the longer distance recoveries and the other is more local.

These maps tell a story which is a not too surprising one.  Most of the birds we catch are locally bred typically from the Lakes, North East England and Southern Scotland.  These are birds that are yet to find a coastline and are probably following rivers on their autumnal amble to the South coast. If we looked at the recoveries from a coastal roost such as Heysham or Fleetwood I wonder if we would find a different pattern of recoveries.

While Swallows are the target at Hornby we have also had some other interesting captures such as the group's only adult Merlin, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 175 Pied Wagtails and 20 House Martins.

Many thanks to the farmer and everyone who has lent a hand over the last 10 years at Hornby.

Friday 6 September 2013

Reedbed Birds Do Well This Year

Bearded Tits, our main study at Leighton Moss have had a good season with 38 juveniles caught to date well up on the 17 of 2012. To date we have identified 8 adult males and 11 adult females but we usually pick up several more, once the birds start using the grit trays which is usually during the second week in September. Young birds are still moulting as is shown in the photo taken yesterday of a young bird still in body moult and in the late stages of primary moult. Its pale iris  shows it is a second brood young probably hatched in mid July.

Reed Warblers despite an  apparent drop in the breeding population have had excellent productivity. Our average catch of new birds over the past five years has been 711 with 629 in 2012. This year with about two weeks to go we have caught 775 new birds the bulk of which are juveniles. Sedge Warblers have also done well, our 5 year average catch has been 236 with just 198 in 2012. This year to date we have caught 308. That the move south is well under way is shown by the small numbers of re-traps in both species. A few Sedge Warblers have been putting on fat to prepare for the journey south. The heaviest was  one at 14.8 grams- almost 4 grams heavier than normal and with a fat score of 5.


Sunday 25 August 2013

Where Have All the Blue Tits Gone?

Blue Tits appear to be very scarce this season. At Leighton  Moss our average August catch for the past five years has been 69, this August with a week to go we have caught only 14. Other ringers in our area report a similar scarcity even those with feeders such as Heysham. Garden bird feeders also report low numbers. The breeding population in our nest boxes declined from  160 nests in 2012 to 135 this year but productivity, at least to fledging was good. Possibly they are still in the woods, will be interesting to see what September/October brings. Tit flocks usually have a good number of warblers with them at this time of year  especially Willow Warblers so with no tit flocks to bring them in our catch to date is just 164 compared with 251 last year.

By contrast  Reed and Sedge Warblers are well up. In the whole of the  2012 season we caught 671 Reed Warblers and 186 Sedge Warblers. With three or so weeks to go we have already caught 798 Reed and 252 Sedge Warblers.

August is  always a quiet time for our main study species, Bearded Tits as they all moult and  keep low down in the reeds. One new departure  though was the sighting of two birds on the grit trays on August 24th. From their colour rings we identified them as two adult females. The previous earliest date was September 11th. Adults usually visit the grit trays in the early part of the gritting season, possibly because they know the location of the trays.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Pied Flycatchers End of Term Report

Managed at last to get full details of our Pied Flycatcher RAS in the Lune Valley. The total population was down from 72 occupied nest boxes in 2012 to 59 this year.  The largest decline occurred in one wood where 5 pairs bred in 2012 but none this year, mainly we think because of tree felling and other work within the wood. Peak population was 76 in 2011 but got as low as 54 pairs in 2009.

Productivity though was good with only three of the boxes failing to produce young and a total of 325 nestling's were ringed by the group. A total of  81 adults were also caught, 54 of which were re-traps. These show the pattern of previous years, the adults mainly returning to the same wood and nestling's returning to breed for the first time  usually moving away from the natal wood to other woods in the valley. A few move further though,with two caught breeding in the Ribble Valley and  our re-trapping of  two females ringed as nestling's in Cheshire and Durham. By contrast a female was caught nesting successfully in the same box as it was hatched.

The oldest bird recorded this year was a male caught 6 years and 10 days after ringing as a nestling in the same wood.


Sunday 11 August 2013

Reed Bed Passerines Have a Good Season

Our ringing visits to Leighton Moss RSPB over the past few days suggest that Reed and Sedge Warblers especially have had a very successful season. The average August  catch of Reed Warblers over the past 16 years has been 366, over the first ten days of this August we have already  caught 232 and mid to late August usually produces the best catches. The breeding population based on the numbers of adults caught (140 against 182 in 2012) appears to be down but productivity has obviously been good. Adults prepare to leave as shown by one caught today weighing 13.8 grams and a fat score of 4. But juvenile weights have yet to show any noticeable increase.

The main Sedge Warbler passage is also in mid to late August. The 16 year average catch is 180. To date we have caught 64.Other warblers also appear to have done well especially Blackcap with 56 caught so far this year compared to just 27 in the whole of 2012.  Our isolated Bearded Tits are our main study. They have also done better this year with 36 juveniles caught compared to only 17 last year. They are now  stating to moult which makes them much more difficult to catch.

Monday 29 July 2013

July Update

With the rain beating down and the wind blowing and a poor forecast for the next two days  it looks as though our ringing is finished for this July. Time to take stock and compare with last July's ringing in our RAS studies  at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. Its so easy to do this  with IPMR. We managed 16 ringing visits this July, two more than in 2012.

Bearded Tits have done well with 32 juveniles compared with just 17 last season. The most intriguing increases though are Blackcap with only 14 last year but 50 this July and Chiffchaff increasing from just 6 in 2012 to 46 this year. Willow Warblers after a good start have slipped back recently  and we caught 83 in both years.

Sedge Warblers have done well with 91 compared to 39 last year. Reed Warblers though are down from 261 to 202. Whether this reflects a population decline or just a late start to the season only ringing in August may reveal. Interestingly we caught two adults in the last week showing signs of preparing to start their return migration, one weighed 13.1 grams, with a fat score of 3 and the other 12.4 and a fat score of 2. From past ringing we know that return migration in this species starts in late July, for we have had 5 adults caught on migration on the south coast during the last week in July.


Saturday 20 July 2013

A Day to Remeber

May 5th 2013 will certainly go down in the annals of the group as a red letter day. Mark and Dave ringed at two gardens on the edge of Bowland and caught 129 birds the bulk of which were Lesser Redpoll with 9 Siskin. Good catch, but the amazing thing was that 9 of these birds (7 Lesser Redpoll and 2 Siskin) were controls. Their first thought was that they were birds ringed just a short distance away in the Ribble Valley. However we now have details of 6 of the Redpolls and a Siskin.

Of the Lesser Redpolls one was ringed just 8 days previously in  Lincolnshire, one ringed late March at Thetford in Norfolk. Others were from winter or autumn passage  ringing in Sussex,  Cheshire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria. The Siskin had been ringed just 15 days previously at the same site in Lincolnshire as the Redpoll.

There is usually a passage of Lesser Redpolls through our area in early May, but this year with the poor spring weather  passage lasted right through May. In  total the group caught 256 Redpolls during May.of which 20 were controls. Details have come through from the Ringing Office of  13 of these and besides the ones  detailed above they included birds ringed in winter in  Kent, Surrey (2) ,Norfolk, Suffolk, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

Monday 15 July 2013

Warblers have a good season

Our recent ringing at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve suggests that some warblers locally have had a productive season. The most outstanding is Blackcap. Last year we ringed just 27 from July to September. Already this year we have ringed 37 and the best period is yet to come.

Chiffchaffs usually only occur in numbers in late August and early September and last year we ringed 63 from July to September. Already this year we have ringed 39  most of them probably locally bred.

It's a little early to asses Reed and Sedge Warblers, but recent catches suggest that they too are doing reasonably well. The spell of calm settled weather has certainly helped-last year at this time we were wading through water over our boards walks -this year we don't even need waders.

Our main study is the Bearded tit population and they are doing very well this year with 32 juveniles caught to date compared to just 17 in the whole of 2012. Two young birds caught yesterday were third brood youngsters judging by their eye colour which changes as they mature.


Tuesday 9 July 2013

Bearded Tits Continue to Prosper but Reed Warblers Continue to Falter

Our Bearded Tit ringing at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve continues to be productive. We have now caught  30 juveniles compared to only 17 in the whole of 2012. Of these12 had been ringed as nestlings in our wigwam nest boxes, We ringed 21 nestlings so survival has been good and there are probably more to come as we caught two today. July is normally a good month for captures  before they start in moult late in the month and on through August and they then become  quite difficult to catch

By comparison Reed Warblers appear to be present in smaller  numbers than usual. To date we have caught 66 adults this compares with 95 in the same period last year and ringing effort has been very similar. In recent years we have usually just exceeded 200 adult Reed Warblers by the end of the season. Juveniles are just starting to appear now and this usually results in more adults being caught as they move around or start a second clutch. The oldest bird caught so far this year is in its seventh year, a bit to go yet to catch our oldest bird which was 9 years and 314 days after capture and still going strong.

Sunday 30 June 2013

Sand Martin mid season report

In recent years I've blogged a lot about Sand Martins after each session or each week.  As the pattern of catching is pretty similar with early visits being mostly adults, mid season visits being a mix of adults and juveniles and late visits being mostly juveniles it all becomes pretty similar and I may as well say 'read previous year's report for these dates'.

This year has been vastly more successful than last year due to better weather and consequently river levels that are not over topping banks or flooding out burrows.  As a result we have:

- More captures for 2013 than we managed in all of 2012 although with increased effort in 2013
- 50% of the captures by this point in the season than we had in 2010 and 2011 with similar effort.

These figures reflect how poor 2012 was and how late the 2013 season is (about 10 days later for Sand Martins).  2010 and 2011 were exceptional in terms of productivity and occurred on top of good winters for returning birds.  2012 on the other hand had poor survival from the 2011 winter and a poor breeding season which has led to a lower population in the Lune valley.

As this is part of the BTO's Retrapping Adults for Survival programme (RAS) we are aiming to retrap birds from previous seasons to understand the survival of Sand Martins between years.  So far this year we have visited 3 large colonies and not managed to get into some smaller colonies due to windy weather limiting evenings we can ring on.  The retrap numbers from previous years are below:

Year of Ringing Juvenile Adult Juv return rate Adult Return rate
2009 0 1N/A0.5%
2010 2 0N/A0.1%*
2011 7 8N/A1%
2012 9 19 5%13%
* Return rate calculated from total number of adults handled in each year and proportion caught this year.  As few adults were ringed in 2009 a higher proportion have survived than from 2010.

Following a good winter we typically expect 20% of adults to return and roughly 15% of juveniles although this varies from 2% to about 20% depending on various factors.  The 2010/11 winter gave us a return rate for adults of about 8% and the 2012/13 winter has given us a 13% return rate for adults.  As we caught about 1200 individual adults in 2011 we would expect (given the above rates) to retrap roughly 13 birds caught as adults in 2011.

Totals ringed so far this year are:
New Adults - 266
New Juveniles - 228
Retraps from previous years - 46
Controls - 1 UK ringed, 3 French ringed.

While nice to catch the foreigners it is hardly surprising given nearly every British Sand Martin will migrate through France on the way to winter in Africa.


Thursday 27 June 2013

Bearded Tits Do Well but Reed Warblers Falter

Bearded Tits are having a good season at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. To date we have caught 24 juveniles. This compares with only 17 in the whole of  2012 and what is normally the best  time for catching is yet to come. Both first and second broods seem to have done well. We ringed 21 nestlings  from five broods in our wigwam nest boxes. To date we have caught 8 of these with all five broods represented. The broods obviously split up fairly soon after fledging for yesterday we caught three of these  all from different broods.

Juvenile male Bearded Tit
Bearded Tits  form apparent pairs  a few weeks after fledging. This was well shown by a pair of adult birds caught together this week with consecutive ring numbers. They had been ringed together on June 11th 2012. They were either re-trapped or sighted together on five occasions during the autumn and winter and were still together this week. We have had many similar observations over the years.

To date we have either sighted or re-trapped  ten adult females and seven adult males and again the best period of re-trapping and sightings on the grit trays is yet to come. Of the 17 ringed as juveniles in 2012 nine have already been reported this year, suggesting good survival. Of the other adults two are in their fourth year

Reed Warblers though appear to be either down in numbers or late in their breeding or possibly a combination of both. With similar effort between years by June 26th 2012 we had caught 77 adults but this year we have caught only 33. It certainly has been a late season this year so it will be interesting to see what the next few weeks bring.


Redpoll and Siskin Recoveries

The results of our spring garden ringing of these two species which were caught in unprecedented numbers, have started to come through from the BTO.

Lesser Redpoll
Birds ringed in late autumn or winter from Surrey, Sussex, Suffolk and Derby were caught in our area in spring. While one ringed in West Lothan in September was also caught.  These reports fit in well with other recoveries and show the wintering area of our spring passage birds to be mainly in the south of England

By contrast four of the reports of this species were from the breeding area , two in Northern Scotland and one in SW Scotland. This brings the total of  Siskin ringed or controlled in our area to 19 from Northern Scotland and nine from the SW Scotland.

Other Recoveries
Two belated reports from 2010 were of a Sand Martin in Spain in August making this our ninth report from this country. A Sedge Warbler from Belgium making it the fifth from that country.


Thursday 20 June 2013

Nest Boxes and Bearded Tits Do Better

Since my last post, which reported lower numbers and some deaths among early broods things have improved substantially. The weather has been kind with a warm dry spell and this has certainly helped. Both Great and especially Blue Tits have good broods and many are now fledging. There has been no further loss of young despite the lateness of the season. The only exception is one brood taken by Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Last year we had 5 woodpeckered. With broods being well fed they are not calling and so are not attracting the attention of woodpeckers. Pied Flycatchers have also done well and my impression is that young birds have grown quickly this season.

Kevin Briggs who is studying the caterpillars in a Lune valley woodland reports that numbers for the last three weeks have been very high and this has coincided with the period when the young are in  the nest. Hence the good results detailed above

 A Great Tit nest in Whittington woods is most unusual, on May 28th it  had 5 cold eggs, by June 6 it had 8 warm eggs which had hatched by June 14h but there were also 7 eggs and by June 20th it had increased to 8 eggs and there were still 8 young. Two birds laying in the same box ?

At Leighton Moss RSPB we have just started  this years catching of  young birds as part of our long running study of this  species. In 2012 with poor weather and high water levels we had a very poor season with only 17 young caught . Already this year we have caught 15 juveniles and ringed 21 nestlings so things are looking  much better and July is usually the best month for catching Bearded Tits. Sightings of the colour ringed adults suggest that survival over the winter has been exceptionally good.

Sunday 2 June 2013

A Poor Season in the Nest Boxes

My five nest box schemes are having a poor season.   Occupation rates are well down with a decline of 30% in Blue tits (65-45) and 23% in Great Tits(71-53) compared with 2012. Pied Flycatchers are very  similar to last year 13-14 but only occur in two woods. I have only 1 Nuthatch this year compared with three last year.

Both tit species are about a fortnight behind last year. Clutch size is not bad with a few low whereas others are normal.  Numbers are now feeding young. First indications are that brood size is rather low and at one site visited on May 29th three broods had succumbed no doubt due to the shortage of caterpillars  due to the unusually cold spring. This wood though usually has the highest rate of   total failures. It is mainly fairly young Ash. I visited three boxes in gardens. Blue and Great Tits had only 2 young each at the  ringing stage and the other Blue Tit had a brood  of six  all dead.

Hope the present warmer weather improves matters.

Saturday 25 May 2013

700 down!

An indication of the lateness of this year's breeding season is that by this time last year I'd ringed over 700 pulli but this year I still don't have any pulli in my nest boxes in the Lune Valley.

Overall numbers of Blue Tit are well down and Great Tit are almost non-existent. Oddly enough, there are some very large clutches this year, including one of 15 eggs - can't remember seeing one this large before. Pied Flycatchers are still starting nests despite there being almost no singing birds in the woods this week or last week but a number of females are already incubating.

Its certainly a very odd season up  here!


Thursday 16 May 2013

Lesser Redpolls on the Rise

The groups ringing totals for the year have just passed the 3000 mark including retraps and controls. Blue Tits  usually head the list at this time of year as much of our ringing is in gardens. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that we had handled  just 318 blue tits but  504 Siskin and 438  Lesser Redpolls. I have detailed our Siskin ringing in a previous posting. So I looked at Lesser Redpoll in some detail. Most were ringed in three gardens, Mark and Dave's  around the Bowland fringe and Andrew lower down in Over Kellet and also on the coast on passage at Heysham .

To put these numbers into context taking the previous 10 years we have averaged just 97 per year. The increase reflects the recent move to garden feeders. What is outstanding this year though is the lateness of the feeding activity and the passage at Heysham. In the first 10 days of May 2012 we ringed just 8 Lesser Redpolls, the tail end of the passage at Heysham, This year we handled 210 - a reflection of the lateness of the season in this very cool spring.

What has been so pleasing is that to date this year we have caught  20 controls-(birds nor ringed by us), We await details from the Ringing Office. Previous spring   recoveries have been of birds ringed while wintering in the south of Engalnd and then moving through to breed in Scotland but with one recovery in Norway.


Tuesday 14 May 2013

Bearded Tits Do it Again

Unlike many other species our Bearded Tits at Leighton Moss seem to be reasonably up to date this year, despite the poor weather. We already have at least four fledged broods. We  got the colour ring  combinations of another pair today which have just started incubating. I was surprised to find it was a pair which had already fledged one brood of four. they had moved ca 185 m to another wigwam nest box. The young fledged on April 30th and the first egg of the second clutch was laid just four days after the young had fledged equaling our record from previous observations. Over the weekend we found a further four nests  and we  await details of their colour combinations, one can only assume that most of these are second broods. In past years pairs have had second clutches in the same box while others have moved up to ca 400 m. Bearded Tits are not territorial and have been known to nest just 10 m apart. However some interesting observations have come to light from the RSPB web cam which has been on two nests recently. Bearded Tit enthusiast Alan Gallagher has been logging sightings. At the nest which was still incubating on 4 May at approximately 0520 hours the nesting male was perched in the reeds to the top right of the nest box. An intruding male  enters the frame from the reeds to the left of the nest box. As the intruding bird makes its way through the reeds towards the opening of the nest box the sitting female exits the nest box and chases the intruding bird away from the nest box. Simultaneously the nesting male descends from his perch and enters the nest box. About 1-2 minutes later the nesting female returns and enters the nest box. She then leaves the nest box about 30 seconds later.

Two days later at 0705 hours on  6 May an intruding female bearded tit arrives in close to the nest box. As this bird is making its way past the opening of the nest box, the sitting female emerges, attacking the intruder and chasing it off through the reeds. The sitting female resumes her incubation duties a couple of minutes later.

These observations fit in well with others in past years, that  nesting birds only chase intruders away from the immediate vicinity of the nest. On one occasion 4 males were round a box and the female ignored them until any  came close to the nest box entrance.

Allan also collected some data on the number of feeding visits when the young were close to fledging .In seven hours of watching on April 17th the adults   averaged 29 visits per hour. in four hours next day they averaged 37 visits per hour. On both days the first feeding visit was at 05.50.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Ready .. Steady .. not quite go (yet)

In common with many other sites in the country, this year the nest boxes in Roeburndale are far behind recent years. All of my boxes have been checked and there is not a single complete nest yet for any species - on this date last year, there were hatched young in some boxes. Pied Flycatcher and Redstart have returned in small numbers and some have started laying (as in previous years many of these species normally start laying in mid-May so they don't seem too delayed) but it is the Blue Tit and Great Tit that seem to be most delayed compared to recent years. The late start to laying means that it is difficult to comment about the size of the breeding tit population after two severe winters and a poor breeding season last year.

As Dr Dave Leech writes in the latest newsletter of the Nest Record Scheme, more nest records of common species such as Blue Tit and Great Tit (especially in urban and park environments) are needed if we are to be able to monitor breeding trends - even for common species.


Treesparrows Sit Tight

My first visit, yesterday, to a group of 13 nestboxes at Thurnham revealed  8 containing Treesparrow nests.   This is one less than last year at this stage.

On approach to these boxes in previous years the adults have invariably left the nest before or whilst the ladder is erected and the box opened.  Even whilst examining the first box, the remaining boxes are normally vacated too.   This year, of 8 occupied nests, 5 still had a sitting adult after the box was tapped quite vigorously and opened up.  The progress of these nests was not recorded since it is unwise to touch or lift this species from the nest. 

We have experienced an extremely cold and windy early spring so far and, subjectively, it did seem that the nests were particularly bulky this year, with the boxes being completely packed with material and nest cup very close to the base.  It seems possible that this, together with the tightly sitting adults, may be a result of the cold conditions and that the birds have reacted to the weather to provide maximum protection for their eggs and young. 

In those nests where the adult was not sitting, the development of eggs and young was only slightly behind  last year in spite of the cold and windy conditions this spring.  The progress of the 5 nests will hopefully be revealed once feeding begins.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Captive-reared Lesser Redpoll traced

There have been a few examples of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin bearing aviculture rings and then migrating with wild birds and being subsequently caught by ringers.  We have had two examples of Lesser Redpoll in the last two springs at Heysham Obs

The 2012 bird was traced to 'ornithologiste francais' (uncertain of the actual spelling here as cannot find a google link), but there were no responses to enquiries

A further individual bearing a closed ring was part of a northbound movement of Lesser Redpoll on the morning of 7th May 2013.  Professor David Norman alerted us to the origin of this bird and contact was made with the secretary of the International Ornithological Association, Alan Robinson.  Alan acted immediately to trace origin of the bird within the limitations of the Data Protection Act (town or general area only) and the bird was traced to Chelmsford, Essex where it was ringed as an aviculturally-reared nestling in 2011

This is also the general direction from which many of our long-distance Lesser Redpolls bearing BTO rings have come.  Therefore presumably this bird joined wintering Lesser Redpolls on feeders and became part of the subsequent spring migratory movement.

Thanks to Professor Norman and Alan Robinson for help determining the origin of this bird   The IOA website can be seen here:

Saturday 4 May 2013

Bearded Tits -Next Instalment

Spent an interesting time getting the colour ring combinations of another pair which have 5 young about 3 days off fledging. They are  nesting in a two year old reed  nest box. We usually replace the reed wigwam nest boxes each year but I had left this one in as it seemed in good condition. Within  three minutes of getting into position the female was back feeding the young and I read her colour rings at the first visit. The male though appeared only briefly in the reeds at the back of the nest. I started to wonder if the presence of  my hide was putting him off as the female fed every three to four minutes. But then I realized that he  was entering the nest box via a hole in the back of the nest box to feed the young and all I saw was his head. So the female was using the front door and the male the back door!. After ca an hour I managed to read his ring combinations. The photo below by David Mower is not of this female but was taken several years ago but shows the type of nest box we use.

The female is 4 years old and for the last three years had been paired with the same male and nested in the same area of the reed bed. They were together on the grit trays  up to late November 2012. However this year she is nesting with a different male, a three year old bird. So probably her former partner has died.This is the third brood so far this year and all three had both parents adult birds.

There are three other nests which are only just starting incubating. We got the colour combinations of one pair and they were both ringed as nestling's  last spring so are breeding for the first time. Interesting that they have nested ca three weeks later than the adult birds. They were re-trapped together on July 9th and September 18th and seen together on the grit trays on October 30th so had formed a pair fairly soon after fledging something we have recorded on many other occasions and seems to be normal in this species. This pair is featured on the RSPB Leighton Moss live Web Cam.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Siskin Ringing Totals and Recoveries

With over 450 handled so far this year,Siskin still head the Group's ringing totals. The cold spring has held them in gardens. Spring passage usually ceases by mid April but they are still being caught at our two main   sites  Andrew's and Mark's gardens.

A recent batch of recoveries included five reports of Siskin. the  outstanding one was a juvenile ringed in our area on 20th June 2011 was found dying in Quebriac Ille-et-Vilaine France on 10th March 2013. 638 km south.This bird was almost certainly bred in our area , part of the small but expanding breeding population. This is only our second recovery of a Siskin in France. The previous one was ringed in the same area in France on 1st April 2002 and caught in Andrew's garden almost two years later to the day. Another juvenile bird ringed on 14th July in Marks garden was  found wintering in Wiltshire, again this was probably a locally  bred bird.

A bird ringed in Thetford Norfolk on 13 March 2010 was caught on 12the February 2103 in Marks garden and was our first Siskin from Norfolk


Friday 26 April 2013

Bearded Tits Do it Again

Spent a wonderful two hours this morning watching a pair of Bearded Tits feeding their well grown young in one of our reed wigwam nest boxes at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. The weather was fine when I set out but it started to rain  and the change in behavior was interesting. Despite the young being well  feathered and  ca three days off fledging, and in the nest box they are completely sheltered from the rain, the adults still spent quite some time brooding once the rain started.. Most natural nest sites are open to the weather so they  would need to provide some cover in these circumstances. What an advantage in this cold spring these nest boxes must be! The adults had no problems finding food, the reed bed was alive with flying insects.

My main reason for watching was to obtain the colour ring combinations of the adults as part of our long running population study on this fascinating species. The female was no problem, orange over red on the left leg and orange over BTO ring on the right. The male also had orange over BTO on the right and I eventually got the left leg combinations purple over yellow.

When I got back home, my data base revealed that they had both been ringed as juveniles in 2011, both were sighted on the grit trays on many occasions in the autumn of 2011 but never together.  However in the 2012 autumn they were seen together acting as a pair on 15 occasions between  28th September and 21 November. A phone call to Alan Gallagher and he e-mailed the attached picture of these two birds together, one of five photos he had taken in early November 2012 on the grit trays. Another case of birds staying in pairs throughout the autumn and winter.

The RSPB have a Web camera on this nest  so you can watch the action on the Leighton Moss Web Site.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Bearded Tits Paired for Life?

Our first young  Bearded Tits of the year should fledge shortly, we ringed the first brood this morning. We read the colour ring combinations of one  pair with young and found they were both ringed as juveniles in summer 2011.  In the following winter they were seen together on the grit trays on seven occasions acting as a pair. We never located them during the 2012 breeding season but on 28th September 2012 they were back at the grit trays together and  were seen together again acting as a pair on  six occasions  during the next two months. Alan Gallagher's  photo shows them together on the grit tray on November 8th 2012.

We have had several similar observations of other pairs all suggesting that Bearded Tits remain as a pair throughout the year.


Friday 19 April 2013

Siskins Head the Ringing Totals

With 1487 birds ringed so far this year it came as something of a surprise to find Siskin top of the list with 373 ringed to date. All have been ringed in gardens and remained there in numbers until the milder weather of the last few days. This compares with 172 in the whole of 2012 showing what a good season it has been for this species.
Of the 373  caught  12 birds were already ringed so we look forward to getting full details in time. Previous recoveries of birds caught in our area in late winter/early spring have been mainly  from wintering sites  in the south of England ranging from Suffolk and Kent through to Hampshire.  These birds are heading for the breeding areas in  Northern Scotland (10 recoveries) or Southern Scotland (7 recoveries) with one killed by a cat in southern Sweden.
In total we  have had 68 retraps. Almost all were within a few days of ringing. But five had been ringed in the east of our area in Bowland in the previous July and August and retrapped in February and  March in the same area. Siskins have recently colonised our area and appear to be spreading into the many maturing conifer forests so may feature more in our  future ringing.