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)

Sunday 21 December 2014

Some Quick Recoveries

With the weather set in an anti-ringing mood, it was great to get an interesting batch of recoveries, most of them from ringing earlier in the year.

Two juvenile Sedge Warblers retrapped in Wiltshire and Rutland  both  just nine days after ringing in August, re-enforces many other similar recoveries in past years, suggesting that the Sedge Warblers we ring are mainly passage birds moving through our area quite quickly.

A juvenile Whitethroat was caught on the same day and at the same locality in Wiltshire as one of the Sedge Warblers.  It was caught 23 days after ringing in early August. This is only our fourth Whitethroat from the south of England. Single Willow Warbler and two Chiffchaff were also intercepted in the south  of England. The Chiffchaffs were consecutive ring numbers both were ringed on 2nd October one was caught 5 days later 304 km south in Berkshire and the other 10 days later in Dorset

Two juvenile Reed Warblers from July ringing were caught at the same locality in thePyrenees-Altantiques department right in the south west corner of France. One was 25 and the other 37 days after ringing. These two brings our total of Reed Warblers from  France to 27.

Reed Bunting have been present in good numbers this autumn. One ringed on 3rd  September was caught 27 days later in Dorset. It is our third Reed Bunting from the south coast.

A Bearded Tit ringed as a nestling in April and retrapped in June and August and sighted on the grit trays on 28the September was sighted 12 days later in a very small reedbed at South Walney NR. This is only our third recorded movement  away from Leighton Moss RSPB since 1980 despite ringing 2100. Eruptive behavior has been recorded on three occasions this autumn, but on all occasions the birds were seen to drop back into the reedbeds. But at least one moved out.

Finally a colour ringed Greenshank sighted on the wader pools on 26th to 29th June had been ringed as an adult 22 days previously at Tongue in the Highlands. this is our second  colour ringed Greenshank from this area.

Thursday 4 December 2014

More Recoveries & Bearded Tit Update

A new batch of recoveries confirming  known movements but with a few surprises. A Sedge Warbler to Devon 15 days after ringing brought  our total from Devon to six. Another from Dorset was our 21st from this county. The surprise was our first Sedge Warbler from Durham ringed on13th September 15 days later it was 88 km to the NE and going in the wrong direction! A case of reverse migration? We have had  at  least five other similar northerly movements in times past.

 Juvenile Reed Warblers were reported from Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex. This makes 6 from   Dorset, 8 from Hampshire and 47 from Sussex from past ringing. A juvenile Sand Martin from Dumfries ringed in a colony on June  16th and caught at one of our colonies on the River Lune 15 days later, showing how early they move and join other colonies probably for roosting on their way south. Another early mover was a Willow Warbler ringed on 23rd June and caught 214 kms south on 28th July. A Lesser Redpoll  ringed on April 6th was caught  in Dumfries 12 days later.

This week we have caught six  new Bearded  Tits at Leighton Moss RSPB to bring our total of new ringed birds for the year to 69 compared to 48 in 2013 and just 17 in 2012. Judging from the undeveloped colours of  their iris four at least were from late broods. Activity on the gritting trays is running down as usual by early December but a pair seen there this week had been ringed together in June and have been recorded together on six occasions since, confirming the early pair formation of juvenile Bearded Tits.

Friday 21 November 2014

A Bumper Year

With some submissions yet to come in the group has just passed 15,000 new birds ringed which is almost 4000 more that the average for the last five years. With ringing effort being roughly the same this suggests excellent productivity for both residents and migrants. The table below compares the 2014 catch with the five year average for species ringed regularly in good numbers.

Species                   5 Year Average        2014 catch
Chiffchaff                      185                       462
Willow Warbler             434                       585
Whitethroat                    116                       257
Lesser Whitethroat          46                         71
Blackcap                        109                       300
Reed Warbler               1010                     1300
Sedge Warbler               416                       410
Goldcrest                       129                       211
Robin                             132                      326
Grey Wagtail                   49                      162
Wren                              134                      258
Reed Bunting                196                       364

Of these 13 species only Sedge Warbler has not shown any increase. The fact that both migrants and residents have increased suggests excellent productivity and survival no doubt due to the good warm weather especially later in the breeding season. In the case of residents last winters mild weather also helped.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Bearded Tit Gritting Season Interim Report

Its been an interesting season this year to date . With 269 sightings of colour ringed birds logged so far which is 78 up on the whole 2013 season. A total of 36 adults (21 males and 15 females) and 43 juveniles (21 and 22 females) have been recorded to date. There are also a number of unringed birds around with a maximum of 5 being seen at any one time. These are almost certainly all juveniles.

The birds this year have used the path for gritting much  more than in recent years. Possibly because it was very dry when they started gritting in late September and also because some new filling was put down to repair holes in the track. However most sightings have been  on the grit trays. Another reason for some birds switching to the path was that Chris Packham in Autumn Watch tried an experiment with different sizes of grit  in three bowls. The birds  certainly didn't like this until they replaced the bowls with a partitioned grit tray. However most of the birds using the path are  juveniles.
Birds usually  visit the grit trays on 3-5 days but as usual some  birds visit more often. The record this year is a young female D752024 which has been recorded on the trays on 15 different days. Birds regularly visit in presumed pairs as is shown in the photo. This year we have a young male and a female which we ringed in the same nest box on May 2nd . They appear to be a pair as they have been seen together on the trays nine times. This is the first time we have recorded brother and sister remaining together into autumn, they were still  together today.will be interesting to watch developments.

Many thanks to Keith Kellet and the Gallagher Family for logging most of the sightings.

Monday 10 November 2014

Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler Make a Late Appearence

To date the group has ringed an unprecedented 8 Chiffchaff in November(4 each at Heysham and Leighton). The most we have ever ringed in November before was 3 in 2010. The occasional bird winters in our area , so it will be interesting to see if more stop this coming winter.  Judging by our ringing Chiffchaff have had  excellent productivity this year. Our average catch over the past five years was 185. This year we have caught 462 so possibly the record numbers to date in November are a spill  over from this excellent productivity.

This weekend we caught a further three Cetti's Warblers bringing our Leighton total to 13, the highest yet recorded. The fascinating thing is that although  at least 6 pairs were located in the breeding season we only caught one during our spring and summer ringing which produced a total of 1240 Reed warblers so the effort was there. The others were caught in October and  November. Historically this has been the pattern; of 40 ringed in previous years only four were caught in summer.

A Cetti's controlled at Heysham on 28/9  was not ringed by any of our local ringing groups. So we await with interest full details from the BTO.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Reed Buntings, Cetti's Warbler & Bearded Tits

A rare still day allowed us to get out at Leighton Moss . We were hoping to catch some of up to 5 unringed Bearded Tits which are visiting the grit trays but we only caught ringed birds.  Reed Buntings though were  good with a catch of 22 bringing our total for 2014 to 193 almost 100 up on 2013 and still time for  more. Like many other species they seem to have had a very good breeding season.

Our ninth Cetti's Warbler for the year was interesting. It was a retrap from November 2010 but it had not been retrapped in the intervening 4 years.Singing males in spring have built up over the past 3 years. There was certainly at least five at Leighton and 2-3 in other parts of the reserve and many suitable but difficult areas not checked, but we still catch only small numbers although the nine this year is the most ever. But they certainly are worth ringing one ringed at Leighton on 13/03/2010 was caught at Farlington Marsh Hampshire on 25/04/11and on 4 other occasions into 2012 a distance of 389 kms south.

The Bearded Tit gritting season continues apace up to yesterday we had logged 227 sightings of colour ringed birds. At total of 75 different birds were involved. Of these  36 were adults and 39 birds of the year.


Tuesday 21 October 2014

Bearded Tit Gritting Season Update

The gritting season is certainly in full swing. To date we have got 160 sightings of our colour ringed birds involving 68 different birds. Of these 35 are adult birds and 33 are birds hatched this year and ringed as juveniles. To date we have identified 40 adults in our population from sightings and retraps so 35 of them seen gritting represents a high proportion of the  adult population. Two of the adults are in their sixth year.
We have ringed 61 juveniles this year of these 33 have been seen gritting. Of these 29 are from first brood youngsters. This pattern follows observations of previous years that the adults come first to the trays , then the first brood youngsters and finally birds from later broods.

I reported before that birds were using both the trays and also new areas of gravel  on the path. This use of two sites has continued but the ones using the path are almost exclusively young birds and there is a mixture of both age classes on the trays. The use of the path has diminished over the past week as the path becomes solidified by the rain. We know from past experience that there is little gritting activity during wet and windy weather so this week looks poor but the first day of reasonable weather should see a marked upturn in activity.
Paul Brewster's fine photo shows a young bird identified by its red colour ring on the path.
While Alan Gallagher's photo shows the female in its sixth year on the grit trays. Many thanks to both.


Thursday 16 October 2014

Recoveries Catch Up

With the BTO's new  database now functioning we have just received a batch of 8 recoveries and 19 controls. Sand Martins top the list with four from Sussex and one from Norfolk. This brings the total of  our Sand Martins reported from Sussex to an amazing 129 (almost all from Icklesham) and 33 from Norfolk almost all of them on return migration. We still await details of six French ringed Sand Martins.

A Sedge Warbler from Sussex brought our total on passage there to 36. Lesser Redpolls have a marked passage through our area in spring. The wintering areas of these passage birds is further confirmed by reports from Suffolk and Herts. While a spring recovery in Dumfries  just 14 days after spring ringing points to the breeding area.

Many of our nestling Pied Flycatchers ringed in our nest box schemes return to nest in our area of the Lune Valley although they usually move woods. But nestlings from other areas also  move into our nest boxes and this batch of recoveries featured nestlings from Durham (2) and one from Cheshire all caught while breeding in our nest boxes.

All but two of this batch were details of birds caught and released by other ringers. A Robin ringed as nestling was killed by a cat just  two days after fledging , probably an all to often occurance.

On a brighter note Reed Buntings can be added to those species which appear from our ringing to have had good productivity this year. To date we have ringed 246 compared with just 126 in 2013 and 100 the previous year. This week we have caught 5 Cetti's Warblers at Leighton Moss including one ringed as a juvenile in 2011. It was retrapped in the same area it was ringed.


Wednesday 1 October 2014

Bearded Tit Gritting Season in Full Swing

Taking in grit is essential to Bearded Tits at this time of year as they change their diet from the soft insect food of summer to the much harder reed seed diet of winter Over the past few days they have been taking grit but with a difference this year. Although numbers are using the specially provided grit trays good numbers have also been gritting on the limestone path that runs across the centre of Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve.

Before the grit trays were provided in 1996 they used the paths exclusively but over the  past  15 years use of the paths has been minimal as they have become solidified. But after this years unusually dry weather the paths have a fine layer of grit in some areas and this is obviously attractive to the birds. This morning after a good rain shower they deserted the areas of path they had used  for the past week and moved to a patch of new limestone gravel that had been put down to repair a hole. The problem with path gritting is that although most visitors to the reserve are delighted to see these  attractive birds so close it only takes one person to walk along the track and disturb them.

To date thanks to the dedication of Keith Kellet we have got sightings of  55 birds. Of these 49 are colour ringed. These show clearly that it is almost exclusively adult birds which are using the grit trays and birds of the year the paths. Obviously the adults have used the trays in previous seasons  and know of their location. Will be interesting to see if  they desert the paths  when the weather changes as it is forecast to this weekend.
 To date on our Bearded Tit RAS we have identified   18 adult males and 16 adult females. Five of these were identified for the first time on the grit trays and we hope for more. To date we have caught 60 juveniles.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Our Ringing Suggests Excellent Productivity

2014 is turning out to be a record year for the group. Although helped by the excellent ringing weather in September our ringing totals so far this year  for warblers especially, are the highest on record . The table below compares our catch this late summer/autumn with the  averages for the past 10 years from three of our regularly ringed sites where effort has been similar over the years

                                              Average Catch                   2014 Catch
Chiffchaff                                      132                                409
Willow Warbler                             280                                541
Blackcap                                         65                                 244
Whitethroat                                     77                                 243
Reed Warbler                                602                                 916
Goldcrest                                        87                                 139
Robin                                              96                                 255          

For the last two residents the average catch extends to December so the 2014 figure should rise. The only warbler that we ring in significant numbers not to show an  increase was Sedge Warbler . Here the catch at 438 was around average.  


Saturday 20 September 2014

Reed Warbler RAS End of Term Report

With Reed Warbler captures almost at an end for the year time to look at the results of this the 18th year of our RAS study at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. This is a spin off from our main study at Leighton which is our isolated population of Bearded Tits

After a slow start adults eventually picked up and we ended with a total of 174 (112 new birds and 62 retraps from previous years). This is 16 birds short of the average catch of 190 over the last 17 years and a similar proportion of new birds to retraps. Our oldest bird was just 6 years and we had two at five years.

With the mainly good spring and summer weather productivity has been good with a record total of 910 juveniles ringed. The average for the past 17 years has been 601. The excellent ringing weather in September really helped. Bearded Tits have also had a good year with 60 juveniles ringed to date.

We look forward to hearing of  a few of our birds  caught by other ringers as they migrate south. From past ringing we have had 55 from Southern England,  3 in Belgium, 15 in France, 5 in Portugal 4 in Spain and 2 in Morroco.


Thursday 11 September 2014

Colour Ringed Curlew Sandpiper & Little Stint

Small movement into our area of both these species so far this autumn but one of each is colour ringed. The juvenile Curlew Sandpiper with red on the left and Yellow on the right leg with letters ECC was sighted on the Allen Pool Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve on September 6th it had been ringed just four days previously at Revtangen Norway having been  caught in a walk in trap. It had  moved a distance of 720 km SW in the four days. Rather like the Norwegian name Tundrasnip!

The Little Stint  was at Leighton Moss on September 9th and is still there today(11th) it also  has a red colour ring on the left and yellow on the right with letters engraved but to date we have been unable to  read these. However we do know that this juvenile has also been ringed at Revtangen obviously this autumn.

Thanks to Keith Kellet for the sightings and to Kjell Mork Soot for the ringing information.


Monday 8 September 2014

Sedge Warblers Make a Late Surge

After a period of lower numbers than usual there was  a sudden upturn this weekend with   35  Sedge Warblers caught compared with 26 Reed Warblers, the first time this year that Sedge Warblers have been the most abundant. Even so total numbers for the year  at 225 are down by just a hundred on  2013 where as Reed Warblers at  960 are 80 up on 2013.

This weekend saw  two Bearded Tit catches including two new birds one of which was in juvenile plumage and had only just started to moult so it must have fledged in early August. To date we have ringed 58 juveniles compared to 48 in 2013 and just17 in 2012.

I always find it interesting to compare  the numbers we catch with previous years given that our ringing effort is similar each year. Certainly for most species that we handle in sufficient numbers to give a meaningful comparison, this year looks like a very productive one for both residents and migrants. To  quote a few figures- Blue Tit 327 against 212 in the whole of 2012, Willow Warbler an increase from  173 to 349, Goldcrest 33 this year  only 23 last year , Robin 32 compared with just 11 last year and autumn is usually best for these last two.


Monday 25 August 2014

Warbler Miscellany

With decent weather we caught 333 birds in three visits to our reed  bed sites at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. Bearded Tits our main study species started to feature again as the first brood complete their moult. Bearded Tits are one of those species where the juveniles moult their flight feathers and they become almost flightless during the moult but all 5 that we caught had all but completed their moult.  Two had been ringed as first brood nestlings  giving us precise data as to their age in relation to completion of the moult.

Warblers  though proved the most interesting. Our catches of Sedge Warbler have been low this year, on Saturday it looked as though they were picking up with a catch of 25 compared to 39 Reed Warblers, but Sundays catch produced only 2 compared with 35 Reed Warblers. One feature of Saturdays catch was the low weights with many under 10 grams suggesting they had migrated over night, probably from  Scotland.

Reed Warblers appear to be having a bumper season, we are just short  of the 1000 mark for the year. Despite ringing 450 juvs in July all but one of the 28 retraps we had this weekend were from August ringing, the exception was a bird ringed as a short  tailed IJ  on 21/7. this strongly suggests that all the first brood Reed Warblers along with most of the  adults have moved out. We have caught only  14 adults in August.

But the star of the show was Willow Warbler. If our catches are any thing to go by they also have had a bumper season. In the whole of the 2013 season we caught only 183 but to date this year we have already caught 307. Many of this weekends catch were  long winged birds suggesting a northern origin


Wednesday 20 August 2014

A tail of two Knot

On a recent trip to the Wash as part of the Wash Wader Ringing Group's summer fieldwork activity a catch of Knot was made in Lincolnshire.  While the number of Knot retraps is always low due to the large numbers around and relatively small numbers ringed each year we did have around 1% of the catch as previously ringed on the Wash.  We also retrapped a bird originally ringed on the 14th February 1998 at Heysham, Lancashire. 

This kind of movement is exactly what we would expect from a wintering Knot at Heysham.  In autumn flocks of many 10s of thousand or even 100,000 form on the Wash where many moult before dispersing to estuaries around the UK and Northern Europe.

While looking at the excellent BTO online recoveries page to see how many have been recorded making this movement before (90), I noticed a rather surprising movement to the Canary Islands.  On further investigation I found this blog which even has photographic evidence of this unusual movement.  Interestingly this bird to the Canary Islands was caught in the same catch at Heysham back in 1998.

The Canary Islands, although a long way away, is not a surprising location for Knot to winter.  What is surprising is that all knot in Morecambe Bay in winter are of the Islandica race which breed in Greenland and Canada then winter in Northern Europe with a few reaching as far south as Portugal. Normally I would have expected a Knot on the Canary Islands to be from the nominate Canutus race however mid August is awfully early for them to arrive on their wintering grounds, particularly as this was still in summer plumage.  How this bird reached the Canaries is a mystery however as they are long distance migrants that do cross large expanses of ocean it is possible a storm picked it up somewhere further north, alternatively it became horribly lost.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Sedge Warblers Remain Scarce

I blogged before about the small numbers of Sedge Warbles we are catching this year. August is usually the best month for both Sedge and Reed Warblers but this August the weather has done us no favors. However on the six mornings of suitable weather this month we have only caught  33 Sedge Warblers  compared to 160 Reed Warblers. Usually we would expect to catch  in a ratio of 2 to 1 in favour of Reed Warblers.

In our cath on Augut 15h at Leighton Moss RSPB we  caught a female and a juvenile from a small party of Bearded Tits- the others went past the end of the nets. The Juvenile had a dark  iris suggesting that it was recently fledged and was still in juvenile plumage with no sign of moult. The adult female had just started to moult with 8 old feathers suggesting that it had  a brood  that had fledged  probably in early August. Bearded Tits can have three broods per season and on occasions we have caught birds still in juvenile plumage as late as Oct 6th.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Pied Flycatchers Have a Succesful Season

We run a RAS scheme on  Pied Flycatchers in 15 woods in the upper  Lune valley and its  tributaries. Yesterday we had  a group get together to  talk over our study. This year we have had 83 occupied nest boxes well up  on the 59 in 2013 and a return to the levels of previous years. We also monitor  another population in Bowland of 8 pairs this year.They have all bred very successfully and we ringed 536  nestlings in total and caught or retrapped 111 adults.

In recent years there has been a marked change in distribution with a decline in the lower altitude woods with three woods losing their birds completely but there has been a corresponding  increase  in the higher woods  with the medium altitude woods retaining their populations.
There is the possibility that the provision of more nest boxes in the upper woods that  they have drawn birds away from the lower woods, but there is no support for  this view from our ringing retraps. Another possibility   we considered was an increase in competition from other hole nesting species such as tits but all our woods have plenty  of unoccupied boxes. So the main conclusion was that the distribution changes related to ecological and possibly  climatic change in the woods and we hope to set up a sampling program to compare   occupied and un-occupied woods.

Our ringing over the years has shown that just 3.9% of the nestlings are recorded again. Of those that return to breed 34 % return to their natal wood-50% move to other woods within the Lune Valley and 16%  move  further afield  Most of these are found in  Northern England with smaller numbers from Wales and South West Scotland. Some though are more adventuress. Nestling ringed in our boxes have been found breeding in  Germany and Denmark. It all helps to spread the gene pool.

By contrast adults mainly return in successive years to their native wood with  just 15% moving woods within the Lune valley. A  few do move further afield. One female ringed while nesting in Galloway moved to our area to breed next year, then north again to  Cumbria the following year.

Thursday 31 July 2014

Reed Bed Species do Well

One of the fascinations of ringing the same  site over the years is the ability to compare  years to get an idea of the population trends and productivity  of the species you study. At Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve our main study is the isolated population of Bearded Tits. This year has  been good, for so far we have ringed 54 juveniles compared to 48 in the whole of 2013 and just 11 in 2012 and there is quite a time to go yet.

The main spin off of this study is the RAS we run on Reed Warblers. Our initial feeling was that the breeding population was down somewhat but this month they have bounced back with a total of 517 handling's compared with just  281 in July 2013 and an average of 380 over the past three Julys. This suggests excellent productivity. To date we have caught 153 adult Reed Warblers, this compares to an average of 190  over the 17 years of our study. We usually catch fewer in August as adults start to leave early in the month. The only two adults that we caught this morning were obviously preparing to leave for they had fat scores of 2 and 4 and were well above average weight, don't think they will be going anywhere over the next two days if the weather forecast is anything to go by!

By contrast Sedge Warblers are well down with only 79 ringed compared to 182 in  the same period last year. There is only a comparatively small breeding population of Sedge Warblers at Leighton. Recoveries suggest that most of the birds we catch are migrants from further north. Perhaps they are later this year or possibly weather  for migration has been so good they have not had to stop off at our site. Willow Warblers fall into the same category being mostly migrants .  This July we have ringed 114 compared to 85 last  year.

In case you are thinking that some of the recorded changes from year to  year are due to varying effort-we ringed on 18 mornings in 2013 and 17 this year.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Reed Warblers Prepare to Leave

Highlight of a catch of 64 Reed Warblers today was Y332103. Originally ringed as a juvenile on 25/08/2011. It was caught on  18th of June this year when it weighed 11.8 grams. Today it weighed 14.5 grams and had a fat score of 5 and was obviously preparing to  leave. The average weight of 5 other adults caught today was 11.1 grams.

Numbers of adults caught start to drop in late July and early August and most have left before the end of August.  We have 6 controls of adult Reed warblers on the south coast in the second half of July, 11 in August and 3 in the first few days of September. By contrast juveniles don't occur there until the middle of August and reach a peak in the last days of August and early September and continue into September. Almost  all the juvs caught today were in post juvenile body moult and had normal weights.

The other amazing thing about todays catch was the complete  absence of Sedge warblers on the same date last year at this site we  caught 8.