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 16 December 2018

Not the normal Knot movement - 18th record of a BTO ringed Knot in Africa

Update - Corrected flag code but similar story.

One of the many things that has come out of the Knot work at Formby is the vast amount of data being produced by a small team of dedicated observers which have made nearly 4,000 observations.  These are all really valuable and without your help many an interesting pattern of movement or important bit of connectivity between sites would be missed.

An email last week was very interesting with the report of a Knot seen twice in Mauritania which had been ringed at Formby in 2017.  I expected this to be either the bird that was seen on the Azores (although unlikely as it looked in pretty poor condition in the last photo) or the bird that was identified as canutus when we caught it in September 2017.  It turned out to be neither of these and in many ways much more surprising.

Orange HA was indeed ringed in September 2017 at Formby as a moulting adult however was seen up until 29th October before disappearing.  It's next sighting was in Mauritania this December.

This is the 18th recorded movement of a British ringed Knot to Africa with previous records in:

Congo - 1
Gabon - 1
Ghana - 1
Liberia - 1
Mauritania - 4
Morocco - 1
Mozambique - 1
Republic of South Africa - 3
Senegal - 4

16 of the 17 have been ringed as juveniles in August and September, the 17th ringed as an adult in July 1973 before being found in South Africa in December 1973. Additionally all but one of these were ringed on the East coast of the UK.  These are all typical movements of Knot of the canutus race.

What makes HA particularly interesting is that it was in the UK so late into October when the previous latest record of a Knot in the UK going to Africa was 25th September.  Clearly having a colour mark here helped get a closer to departure date than a single capture however a month later than the previous latest is surprising.  Was this in the wrong place with a group of Knot not wanting to migrate or was it something else?

With metal ringing alone we might have had some details of it in Mauritania if conditions were good however we certainly would not have had any sightings in the UK post ringing.  Similarly with the bird on the Azores - we may well have had enough photographs to identify the bird but again the intervening records would not be present as a result of the difficulty of approaching Knot in the UK in autumn and winter without causing disturbance.  Once again this highlights the value of colour ringing difficult to monitor species such as Knot.  We are not only getting excellent survival data thanks to the efforts of the local observers but we are also getting fascinating movement data from the global network of keen colour ring readers and one which I would recommend everyone tries as you never know what interesting bird movements you will record.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Goldfinch versus Greenfinch

So far to date we have ringed 962 Goldfinch our best year ever. Its interesting to look back over the years and trace the increase of Goldfinch both as a breeding bird in our area and of course as a bird at feeding stations where most of our birds are caught. Looking back to 1960 before mist nets we ringed 326 Greenfinch but only one Goldfinch! By 1984 were ringed 521 Greenfinch but just 24 Goldfinch. How things have changed to date this year we have ringed 517 Greenfinch but 962 Goldfinch. 

The Greenfinch number is hearting though, for in recent years the disease trichomonsis has depleted the population we reached  a low of 278 in 2015  but numbers have increased over the past three years.Goldfinch are apparently quite mobile at this time of year ,we had  two movements between our feeding sites, one moved 40 Km.

This autumn has seen several quick movers, a Chiffchaff ringed on October 6th  was in Dorset 4 days later. A Sedge Warbler ringed on 27th July was in NW France 16 days later. While a Reed Warbler ringed on August 8th was in southern Spain15 days later. It is only our 6th Reed Warbler from Spain compared to 29 from France.

The build up of Little Egret in recent years has been amazing. Peak numbers of course occur in late summer/early autumn. Colour ringing has shown that many of these are young birds, bred that year with sightings of birds ringed as nestlings usually in May or June from Kent, Lincolnshire and amazing of all, eleven from Wales. This year a new location was added with a nestling from Hartlepool in the NE. Interesting that so many move north after fledging, before moving south in late autumn winter.


Monday 5 November 2018

Norwegian Brambling and Other News

Mark and Dave had a wonderful surprise  on the 2nd when the only  Brambling they caught  carried a Norwegian ring. The group has only ringed 375 over the years and our only other foreign recovery was from The Netherlands.

They also had a good Redwing catch with a few Fieldfares. Heysham also has done well for Redwing tape luring them early morning.  Over the years we have ringed 3600 and our  recoveries have shown a strong tendency for birds to winter in other areas in successive years. We have only had one  bird retrapped locally in the following winter. However we have had two in Italy one in Greece and one most surprising of all one in Azerbyzhan in successive winters. Not that it did them any good for they were all shot!

Grit tray sightings of our colour ringed Bearded Tits at Leighton Moss RSPB has increased our total of adults for the year to 22 males but only 12 females, we have ringed 30 juveniles. Data from our nest boxes suggested  rather low first brood productivity. Interesting how catches of species varies between sites in the same year. Coastal Heysham  and Middleton report low Goldcrest catches but inland Leighton reports normal catches with 10 on one day this week.

Blue tits appear to be moving more into the reed and scrub at Leighton we have caught 227 to date this year. One of this weeks retrap was 6 years and 8 days after ringing, and it was ringed in 2012 as an adult. Surprisingly this was only the second time it had been retrapped.

Friday 19 October 2018

Recent Highlights

Our best recent highlight was a Chiffchaff caught at Poole Harbour in Dorset just four days and two hours after ringing at Middleton NR,a movement of 370 km S. It weighed 9.4 gms when caught, a good weight for a Chiffchaff but only 8.1 grams when caught in Dorset.This is only our second Chiffchaff from Dorset and only our third record from the south coast. We have  had single birds from the Channel Islands, Portugal,Morocco and Senegal. Contrast that with a Sedge Warbler caught 484 km SE in Pas-de-Calais France just 16 days after ringing in late July at Leighton Moss.  It is our 54th Sedge Warbler from France 38 of which have been in August. To date we have ringed 4500 Chiffchaff and 14500 Sedge Warblers.

I have posted recently about how faithful Bearded Tit pairs are once formed. Another pair seen recently on the grit trays is a good example. First caught together as juveniles in  early October 2016 they were recorded together on 11 other occasions in 2016, on 17 occasions in 2017 and seven occasions so far in 2018.

We have ringed good numbers of Reed Bunting at Leighton Moss this year 139 so far compared to 56 in 2017.We get very few retraps suggesting movement through the reed-bed. Looking at our retrap data I was surprised to find our oldest record was just 10 days short of eight years after ringing. It had been retrapped seven times. We had no records of other birds past five years. The national record is just 22 days short of ten years.

Friday 12 October 2018

Reed Bed Ringing Update

In a spell of  windy days it was great to have a calm morning on Wednesday this week allowing a visit to the best site for catching Bearded Tits. We were not disappointed, for we caught this years record catch  of 14 of which 11 were new birds all probably this years young. One of the retraps was an adult which we had not recorded this year, bringing our totals to 16 adult males and 10 adult females and 26 young birds. We normally add more adults to the totals this time of year from grit tray sightings of our colour ringed birds.

The other major catch was 18 Reed Buntings all new birds. It appears to have been a good year for this species for we have ringed 154 this year so far, compared to just 58  last year. We caught surprisingly few tits just one Blue Tit, one Great Tit and three  Coal Tits. Flocks normally move into the reed beds at this time of year to exploit the insects over wintering  in the reed stems, however there is so much food available in the surrounding woodlands with all tree species producing a bumper harvest.


Sunday 30 September 2018

Bearded Tits Gritting Season Gets Underway

It was great this morning for my arrival at 09.00 coincided with the  first birds of day on the trays at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. Up to now there had been very few sightings. In the end there were three pairs each with their own grit tray, which was great for we could tell who was paired to whom.If you got three or more birds on a tray there was much aggression and chasing.

On my return home I quickly looked up the colour combinations of these three pairs and their sighting history. The oldest bird, a male was  first ringed in 2014 so is in his 4th year. His mate was first ringed as a  juvenile in July 2016. In 2016 they were both paired to other birds but by October 10th 2017 they were obviously paired and we seen on the grit trays together on 5 days in October and early November.  One assumes that their previous mates had died. On May 4th this year they were recorded feeding a brood in one of our nest boxes and the sighting  today proved they were still together.

Another pair were both first ringed as juveniles in 2017. They had formed a pair on their first sighting on the grit trays on 18th October and were recorded together on four other occasions to early November. The male was seen on May5th near one of our nest boxes but the female was not identified. But today's sighting shows they have remained together.

The third pair is the one I posted about 10 days ago when they were the first pair to be recorded gritting this season. They were both 2016 birds and were  seen together on 8 times  in the 2016 season and no fewer than 13 times in the 2017 season. They were  seen together at a nest box on March 4th this year and have already been recorded together on four days this September.

These sightings conclusively prove that Bearded Tit pairs remain together as long as they both survive of course. Few other passerine species exhibit this behaviour.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Knot in odd places... part 2 - The Azores.

In early September I had a message from a friend near Liverpool with a photo of one of the Knot from Formby.  After a quick exchange explaining it was one from Formby and asking where he had seen it Peter told me it was taken by someone on the Azores!  Yesterday it was seen again a couple of km away from the previous sighting on São Miguel Island.

It will be interesting to see what happens to this bird. If it has survived for a couple of weeks there is a chance it could survive long term and perhaps reorientate to find it's way back to the Dee, Mersey and Alt estuaries where it spent last winter.  Time will tell however it certainly needs to update its satnav. 

What an islandica Knot is doing on the Azores is somewhat of a mystery.  On the Azores Knot occur regularly but in very low numbers.  Given the location it is likely most records are rufa Knot that have been caught in storms and blown over the Atlantic. Given the proximity of the breeding ranges of rufa and islandica it is likely there is occasional mixing of immature birds in autumn however an adult is quite a different matter.

This is the first record of a BTO ringed Knot on the Azores and is only the 3rd British ringed Knot to be found in any of Portugal.  Only one Portuguese ringed Knot has been found in the UK which was found in August 2013 in Lincolnshire which, remarkably, I was also involved in catching.  These low totals are probably not surprising as few islandica knot make it as far south as Portugal and relatively few canutus Knot stop off in the UK in spring and autumn.  

Many thanks to Peter Fearon, Carlos Ribeiro and Tiago Rodrigues for photographing this bird and getting the data submitted.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Bearded Tit Gritting Season gets Underway

The sighting of a pair on the  grit trays at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve today signals the start of the gritting season. The pair sighted proved most interesting.

They were  both 2016 youngsters, the female having been ringed as a nestling in May and the male as a juvenile in July. The were first recorded together on October 2nd 2016 when they were recaptured. They were them recorded gritting together on 10 occasions up to  November 11th. The next  sighting was on the grit trays on 17 September 2017 and over the next months they were recorded gritting together on 14 occasions up to November 14th. On April 3rd this year they were sighted together near a nest box and the female was seen at the same nest box on April 27th.

These sightings again prove that Bearded Tits pair in their first autumn and remain together as a pair as long as they survive of course.They were the first birds to be recorded on the grit trays in 2017 and the first birds this year although three days late!  They were also the pair which was recorded on most occasions on the grit trays in 2017.

The Grit trays are just off the main public path leading to the Causeway Hide. A new viewing  platform  been installed by the RSPB, giving brilliant views of the three grit trays. I you visit and get details of the colour ringed birds please send them to and help in our research on these amazing birds. Birds are best seen on reasonably calm days between 08.00 and 11.00 from now to late November.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

This Years Ringing at Leighton Moss

With poor ringing weather  for the next few days, if the forecast prove correct, thought I would check how we are doing so far this year. With 1469 new birds so far we are already well past last years total for the full year of  1315.

Including retraps Reed Warblers head the list with 474 compared to 345 last year. A close second is Willow Warbler, with 345 an increase of 182 on last year . Sedge Warblers at 130 saw an increase of 25 but Chiffchaff at 81 are still 20 behind last year although September is  usually good for this species, as it is for Reed Bunting which is already 28 up on last years 58.

Of the less frequently ringed species Treecreeper  are amazing with 43 this year compared to just 27 in the whole of 2017. Blackcap went from 21 to 36 this year. Species which are down are mainly the tits  which usually come into the reed bed and willow scrub later in the year. Blue Tit is a good example being 54 down on last years total of 227.

Bearded Tits are our main study and we appear to have been a bit unlucky with catches. Last week was typical  a flock was calling near the nets but the wind got up and we had to take down. To date we  have recorded 29 birds but September/October are usually the best months and grit tray sightings of colour ringed birds  should  get underway shortly.

Sunday 26 August 2018

An Amazing Sedge Warbler

A clear calm interval on Saturday morning gave us the opportunity to visit the Spring ride at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. The first round of our six nets produced a good variety, including a Cetti's warbler and a Nuthatch and four Sedge Warblers these were weighed  and  none showed any sign of fat. The average weight was 10.7 grams. The next round produced two more  Sedge Warblers one at 10.2 with a fat score of 1. Kevin extracted the other and was amazed  when he examined it , its body was completely covered in fat including the breast and he gave it a fat score of 8. We all guessed at its weight and the highest suggestion was 16 so we were all amazed when it came in at 19.3.grams. When I entered this weight on IPMR it came up with a warning that the usual highest weight was 17.9. So quite an intriguing bird

According to the migration Atlas Sedge Warblers mainly fatten up for their journey across to France along the English south coast or the South Wales coast. We have ringed as a group just over 14,000 Sedge Warblers so  just about impossible to search through these  but we only occasionally get birds above 13 grams. However a search of September catches revealed one  at 15 grams in late September and this appears to be the heaviest we have recorded up to now.

It is thought that Sedge Warblers fatten up on Plum/reed aphids which is abundant in many parts of the reed bed this year. But it is still amazing that this bird should accumulate so much fat especially when only one of the 89 other  birds caught this year so far, exceeded 13 grams and that by .1 of a gram.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Knot in odd places

My short working description of the purpose of the ringing scheme is 'Finding out what normal birds normally do rather than what rare birds rarely do' and similarly most BTO surveys are about 'what's there, what's not there but not what's rare'.  Just occasionally odd things do happen and they can be interesting too.  They're often what sparks an interest that lasts a lifetime.

My interest in Knot began one evening in late September 1999 when I handled my first Knot at Wolferton, Norfolk.  What made this juvenile Knot interesting was it had a metal ring above the knee and by the time I had read as far as 'Buda' on the ring it was in someone else's hand.  For me this is a moment that I'll never forget and also a lesson I pass on to everyone starting out wader ringing - Always check above the knee for rings.  It would have been easy to miss, particularly in the dark at the end of a long week of wader ringing.

The 'Bird ringing in Britain and Ireland in 2001' report mentions this bird:

HGB KX5227 is unprecedented. Few Knot are caught in Hungary each year, only 20 were ringed between 1985 and 1998 (Varga pers comm), and this bird was one of only two Knot, both juveniles, which were caught in walk-in traps on autumn passage in 1999. Just 10 days later the bird was mistnetted on the Wash. This will have been a canutus Knot from the Siberian population on passage to the wintering grounds in Africa. Given the number of Knot passing through Hungary and the scarcity of canutus now visiting Britain (Boyd & Piersma 2001), this recovery is quite amazing. SVS 4294422 is the eighth Swedish-ringed Knot to be reported in Britain & Ireland.

Since this exceptional record another Hungarian ringed Knot has been caught in Porsangerfjord, Norway in spring suggesting that at least some of the Knot reaching Hungary are islandica. I would guess they have overshot the west coast of Norway on the way south, gone down the east coast of Sweden and through central Europe however this is pure speculation.

Broadly speaking all the sightings of the Formby Knot have been as we expected with many in Iceland in spring, the odd one in Norway both in spring and autumn, a couple of the Netherlands, many in Scotland and Ireland but without exception on the coast.  This weekend Twitter sprung into life with a photograph of a flagged bird at Blithfield reservoir in Staffordshire.  Sadly the Knot was too far to read the flag so I thought we would just have a cohort record rather than an individual.  Luckily another photographer had a closer photograph and we now know this bird's identity.  Up until this record this Knot had done what we expected - stopped over in Iceland in May after spending at least some of the winter on the Sefton coast.  This is the first recovery of a Knot in Staffordshire.

With the big tides this weekend I'm sure a lot more sightings will be made and maybe this one will have reappeared in a more expected place.

Sunday 19 August 2018

How Long Do Birds Live?

With poor ringing weather I spent sometime updating our longevity records for our most regularly ringed species.I find it fascinating how this varies from species to species. Not only did I record the oldest bird but all birds surviving five years and above after ringing.

The most amazing species is Reed Warbler with a record of 9 years and 314 days after ringing and with 44 records over five years. Compare this with Sedge Warbler with a record of only 5 years and 51 days and  the only one making 5 years. Granted we have ringed 17, 234  Reed Warblers almost 7000 more than Sedge Warblers and the retrap rate for Reed Warblers is 23% compared to 12% in Sedge Warblers. The high retrap rate suggests we are mainly catching a breeding population of Reed Warblers although recoveries show a small number passing through our sites from the few small colonies to the north with 22 in Cumbria (mainly at nearby Helton Tarn) but only one in Scotland. Sedge Warblers by contrast have  ten spread around Scotland and 11 from Cumbria. So in the case of Sedge Warblers quite a proportion are from a  transient  migratory population  where the chance of retrapping in following years is low  One wonders why there is such a difference between these closely related species? Is it conditions in the wintering areas in Africa or different migration or breeding  strategies?
Of the other warblers the Lesser Whitethroat  record is  5 years and 19 days with another one at five years with only 844 ringed. Next best is Willow Warbler with four at five years from 10964 ringed,  but like Sedge Warblers a good number of the birds caught are migrating through our area with 14 reports from Scotland and four from Cumbria.
Bearded Tits with 17 birds five plus years and a national record of 7 years 93 days are also exceptional. These are the results of an intensive RAS study based on 2458 new birds and 7618 colour ring sightings or retraps.
Of the resident species Chaffinch (oldest 9 years and 246 days) has 17 records of five years plus, as does Blue Tit (oldest 8 years and 15 days) but  we have handled over 31000 more Blue Tit than Chaffinch! Of the other tits Marsh Tit is also outstanding with a record of 8 years 220 days and four over five years plus from only 725 handled. Long-tailed Tits(oldest 7years 285days) has 6 over 5 years from 3169 handlings.
 The table below details my findings with details  of numbers ringed, retraps/sightings. Numbers of birds  above 5 years and for comparison the national longevity record.


Table 1 Longevity Records for Most Ringed Species 1999-July 2018
New ringed
Retraps  Etc
9+ years
Sand Martin
6 Y 19D

7y 9m 1d
3Y 253 D

11y 1m11d
5Y 290d

9Y 285D

7Y 95 D

Great S Wood
5y 161 D

8Y 155 D


Song Thrush
6Y242 D

4Y 80 D

8 y8d
Grey Wagtail
4 Y70 D

Sedge Warbler
5 Y 32 D

Reed Warbler
9 Y314 D
4 Y 43 D

4Y 84 D

5 y 19 D

Willow Warbler
5Y 337 D

2 Y 332 D

Cetti’s Warbler
3 Y 344 D

9Y 3M28D
2 Y113 D

Pied Flycatcher
6 Y 10D

Bearded Tit
7 Y93D

Long-tailed Tit
7Y 285 D

Blue Tit
8 Y 15 D

Great Tit
13Y 329D

Coal Tit
7 Y21D

Marsh Tit
8Y 220 D


4Y 230D

4Y 364 D

House Sparrow
5Y 327 D         

9 Y 246 D
9 Y

5 Y 15 D

3 Y 363 D

3 Y 363 D

Lesser Redpoll
4Y 333D

6 Y361 D

Reed Bunting
7 Y 355 D