22 May 2012

Is it about timing? Dunno!

They say it's all about timing.

Today was a case in hand.

This afternoon I was half way between home and Kirkwall taking my good lady to the hospital for a routine appointment when the mobile goes.

It was my trainer. He had just found a nest containing three Dunnock chicks in his garden and they were ready for ringing, was I interested? I sure was. I dropped my good lady off at the hospital and went straight round to my trainer's house, about two minutes from the hospital.

He showed me where the nest was. Mr and Mrs Dunnock couldn't have picked a bush with more thorns on if they had tried. Fortunately on this occassion my trainer retrieved the chicks from the nest and once I had ringed them he also put them back.

That was another new species of chicks for me, the third this year. I wonder what will be next.

19 May 2012

Sanday Sanderlings

Today four members of the Orkney Ringing Group (Colin, Dave, Brian and myself) went over to Sanday to look for colour ringed Sanderling and if the opportunity presented itself  to do a cannon net catch. The group is involved in a study of Sanderling along the Eastern Flyway. The project originally started on North Ronaldsay but was extended to cover Sanday where upto 600 wintering Sanderling gather. I went over to Sanday in November 2010 to spend the weekend ringing mainly Sanderling and Purple Sandpipers and went back in early 2011 for a day to try and get some resightings.

Today's trip saw us at Kirkwall harbour at 07:30 for the 07:40 sailing to Sanday. It was good weather and a very calm crossing. This led to a bit of a first for me as I actually went down into the bowels of the ferry to the cafe and joined the rest of the team to indulge in a bacon butty and a brew. Not bad for someone that usually stays on deck where the horizon can be seen and the wind can be felt on their face!!

On arrival on Sanday we set off across the island checking known sites where Sanderling have been seen/caught in the past. There wasn't a lot about as we worked our way towards Start Point. As we got to one road junction some Lapwing chicks were seen moving about in the field next to the junction. With me and Colin keeping an eye on the chicks Dave and Brian went in to the field to recover them and bring them back to the car for ringing. Once processed Dave returned them back to the field.

We arrived at Scuthvie Bay and things looked more promising with Sanderling feeding from the water's edge right to the back of the beach.  A comprehensive scan of the flock by the four of us didn't find a single colour ringed bird.

We decided to set the cannon net up and go for a catch. We caught a total of 34 birds; 1 Turnstone, 4 Ring Plover and 29 Sanderling (none of which were ringed). We then set about processing the birds. I was on ringing duties, with Dave doing the wing and foot measurements and logging all the details, Brian was doing bill measurements and weighing and Colin had the fiddly task of fitting the colour rings to the Sanderling. Brian and Dave were also doing the ageing and sexing. The Ring Plover were a new species for my ringing list.

Once all the Sanderlings had been processed each bird then had its photograph taken so that the photos could be sent off to someone who is studying Sanderling plumage.

By now it had turned 2pm and it was time for a quick bite of lunch before resuming the hunt for colour ringed birds. Dave and Brian started at the south end of Scuthvie Bay and headed North along the bay, Colin and myself went up to the North end of the Bay of Sowerdie and headed South and we all met up where the two bays join.

Between us we managed to find five of our birds with full colour ring combinations, two with incomplete combinations and two birds with metal rings only.  A total of nine birds out of approximately 350 birds checked. 

In addition Brian and Dave found a Sanderling with a complete blue flagged combination of colour rings. Checking the records when we got back it was confirmed that this bird was ringed at Zackenberg, Greenland last year as a breeding adult female and has been seen since near Aberdeen on numerous occassions.

   24 Jul 11     Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire
   30 Sep 11    Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   3 Dec 11     Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire
   21 Jan 12     Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   5 Feb 12      Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   4 Apr 12      Donmouth, Aberdeen
   19 May 12   Sanday, Orkney

So hopefully she is now on her way back to Greenland.

This is the second record of a Greenland breeding bird in Orkney, following quickly from the one seen on North Ronaldsay recently.

So all in all a bit of a mixed day. Good that we caught and colour ringed some more birds and in some ways a bit disappointing at the lack of our birds with colour rings. However, given the number of Sanderling that have now been colour ringed in Orkney, some thing like over 200, were we just unlucky or had our birds moved on and we were looking at birds that had arrived from further South?

The sailing back to Kirkwall was again calm, but this time I stayed on deck and was rewarded with some good views of a Black Throated Diver.

18 May 2012


After several days of waiting for the wind to drop a bit, last night was deemed suitable conditions.

So with my friend Marc we met up with fellow trainee Lorna and headed off to meet Brian and to pay a visit to a Raven's nest not far from him.

He knew that there were at least two chicks on the nest but that they were getting close to leaving so time was running out to ring them before they departed.

Last year I was away when the nest was checked. Lorna had been there but as there was only one chick to ring she got the short straw and the chick was ringed by someone else.

This year looked like we were going to get one each.

Brian went to the nest and there was actually three chicks. The adults were a bit noisy at first but soon quietened down. There has been some stories in the press recently about members of the corvid family recognising certain peoples voices and acting differently to when they heard a stranger's voice. Perhap these birds recognised Brian and knew that the chicks would not come to any harm.

The youngsters were fairly docile while being ringed, which made life a bit easier as they had sharp claws.

Whilst the adult Raven is a magnificent bird the youngsters like most other chicks were ugly in a cute sort of way. The irridescence in some of the feathers just goes to show that yet again that a bird that is usually considered black and boring actually has quite stunning plumage.

With all three youngsters ringed Brian returned them safely to the nest and the adults reappeared to reassure them that all was ok.

I was lucky enough to ring two out of the three chicks and we both got to ring a new species.

Hopefully we'll be back again next year to ring the next lot of youngsters.

12 May 2012

Ringing in Uigen

Uigen may sound like an exotic Scandinavian location to go ringing, but it is in fact a small village on the Valtos Peninsula on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

The Isle of Lewis being the destination for this year's holiday.

Claire had always wanted to see the standing stones at Calanais (Callanish) so we decided that this year that is where we would head for. We couldn't get much closer to the site as we had booked a holiday cottage right next to the Calanais Visitors Centre.

The holiday cottage was once a farmhouse and is one of the most historically important buildings in the area with records indicating that it was occupied from as early as 1716. Over the years it has played a vital role in the life of Calanais providing a focal point for the community and a gathering place for important meetings almost up to the present day. In 1861 it was recorded as being used as an inn when a visitor was noted as saying ‘it was a queer place, the dirtiest little den it was ever my misfortune to locate’!!

In its time it has also been used as a post office and as accommodation for students doing archaeological working on the standing stones site.

So this was our base for the week.

Apart from visiting the standing stones and other archaeological sites, we explored most of Lewis and Harris notching up a list of 60 species of birds seen although the two birds we wanted to see, the White Tailed Sea Eagle and Golden Eagle eluded us apart from a couple of very distant sightings of something big.

During preparations for the the trip I contacted Chris Reynolds, a ringer based in a small village called Riof (Reef) also on the Valtos Peninsula, to see if it would be possible to do some ringing with him during the week.

Chris has a ringing site in a garden in the village of Uigen which is where I met up with him. The site is a sloping site with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees surrounded by fields on two sides, hills on one side and a sea loch on the fourth side.

I met up with Chris for two sessions, one on the Monday morning and the other on the Friday morning. We had 5 mist nets up and there was lots of bird activity in the trees.

The two sessions saw me ringing a Greenfinch and a Redwing, both species I have ringed before but new to the list were nine Meadow Pipits and a Redstart.

Male Redstart
Retraps were three Meadow Pipits, three Robins and a Dunnock.

There was also a Pied Flycatcher flitting amongst the trees but it managed to avoid all the mist nets.

Chris also took me on a tour of the peninsula and on our way round we spotted a Lapwing nest with four chicks so I was able to ring those as well.

Unfortunately we didn't get out to do some mist netting of waders, maybe another time.

A big thanks to Chris for having me along, I hope to come back sometime and do some more ringing.