30 August 2013

More stormies

A call from Colin yesterday afternoon suggested that the weather may be suitable for some more Storm Petrel ringing. If it went ahead Stan had already agreed to go with Colin and as Andy was looking at possibly going out as I well I said I would team up with Andy.

I contacted Andy to get the details as he was looking at trying a new location on the East side of South Ronaldsay. With time and location sorted it was just a question of seeing what the weather was going to do.

A late text from Andy confirmed that it was a green light for ringing but he changed the location to our usual spot on South Ronaldsay.

I met up with Andy at 23:30 and we set the net up and got his new sound system running. We didn't have to wait long, approx 10 minutes, before the first bird was in the net. Quickly followed by the second and third. In under an hour we had caught five new birds. Things were looking good and over the next three hours we caught a further 20 birds giving us a total of 23 new birds and two retrap.

At one point there were  number of Storm Petrels flying around directly above us.

Hopefully we will try a few more sessions between now and mid-September but it won't be until probably the middle of next week as we have heavy rain and strong winds forecast through the weekend and into Tuesday.

28 August 2013

A quieter night in the reed bed

With bad weather forecast for at least the next five days we had another session in the reed bed this evening. With Brian back from his travels South he joined Colin, Stan and myself.

After the rarity from the last session it was a quieter session this time although we did have a new species for this season, but not a new one for the reed bed and nothing as exciting as the Thrush Nightingale. This little bird more often associated with our gardens was the Wren.

Swallow numbers were down on previous sessions and we are expecting the numbers to probably decrease as the bad weather pushes the birds off on their long migration South.

The session saw 38 new birds in total with no retraps and consisted of 1 Blackbird, 4 Sedge Warblers, 1 Starling, 31 Swallows and 1 Wren.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                    2
  Linnet                        1
  Pied Wagtail              11
  Reed Bunting             15
  Sand Martin                 8
  Sedge Warbler           77
  Starling                    22
  Swallow                  461
  Thrush Nightingale       1

  Wren                          1

27 August 2013

If you go down to the reedbed you might just get a surprise!!

Yesterday ended up being one of those 'burning the candle from both ends' kind of days.

Having been up in the early hours ringing Storm Petrels now it was time to head to the reedbed for the evening and some Swallow ringing.

This session was with Colin, Stan and his wife Margaret.

There were still a few Sedge Warblers about and of course Swallows. We also ringed a couple more Starlings.

On one of the nets rounds as Colin and myself went past one of the nets there was a bird that was obviously not a Swallow or Sedge Warbler and with only a quick glance in fading light I initally thought it was a Reed Warbler. We decided to leave it for Stan to extract as it would give him a new species. As we started extracting birds from the next net Colin said that it didn't look right for a Reed Warbler as it looked too big.

Once we got back to the ringing point Colin had an initial good look at the bird and confirmed it wasn't what I had thought it was and that it was something we hadn't had at the reed bed before.

As Stan had extracted the bird he would get to ring it, but first it had to be identified. We then started looking at the key features and with reference to Svensson's book 'Identification Guide to European Passerines' we started to rule various species out until we were left with one species that fitted the description.

Here in the reed bed we had caught a species that is usually found in the forests of Europe and Asia which heads to Africa for the winter. A species which has only been recorded in Orkney on seven previous occassions.

The species in question, a Thrush Nightingale.

With the bird identified it was ringed and then all the details recorded for submission to the relevant rare bird committees.

Thrush Nighting Gale - photo by me
Thrush Nightingale - photo by Stan
Thrush Nightingale - photo by Stan
As I said earlier there have only been seven records up to now for this species with the first being 30 years ago.

Previous records are:

  12-16 May 83     Graemeshall, Holm
  26-27 May 88     North Ronaldsay
  25 May 92         North Ronaldsay
  1 Sep 92           Deerness
  21 May 93         North Ronaldsay
  18 Sep 95         St Ola
  13 Oct 06          Herston

We caught 48 birds in total, consisting of 7 Sedge Warbler (including one retrap), 2 Starlings, 38 Swallows and 1 Thrush Nightingale.

Totals caught this season so far:

  Blackbird                   1
  Linnet                       1

  Pied Wagtail            11
  Reed Bunting           15
  Sand Martin               8
  Sedge Warbler          73
  Starling                    21
  Swallow                  430

  Thrush Nightingale      1

The number of Sedge Warbler is now starting to tail off and hopefully we might get a Reed Warbler before the end of the season. Sand Martins and Starlings are both highest totals for the reed bed seasons.

We'll have to wait and see if there will be any more surprises lurking in the reeds.

Another Stormie session

In the early hours of yesterday morning (26 Aug) Colin and myself were back at our Storm Petrel site on Deerness. As I get to take the English Bank Holiday off it didn't matter about having a late finish if we got a good catch.

With the net set it didn't look too hopeful to start with as the sky cleared and there was just over half a moon high in the sky lighting things up. The fog didn't reduce the effects of the moon too much either.

After about half an hour we caught our first bird and there was steady trickle of one or two birds with a maximum catch of five birds over the next three hours.

In the end we caught 14 new birds continuing the theme of very few retraps. We closed the net at around 03:15 and headed for home.

Meanwhile Andy and Stan were at their ringing site on South Ronaldsay and over a similar time span they also caught 14 birds, 12 new ones and two retraps.

Hopefully there will be a few more sessions yet but the forecast isn't looking too good for the rest of this week.

23 August 2013

Reed bed session 22 Aug

After 10 days South I met up with Colin and Stan last night for a session in the reed bed.

Last week when Colin and Stan were down in the reed bed they hadn't caught any Sedge Warblers so it was looking like these birds had set off on their migration South to warmer climes. But not all of them have gone as the first bird we caught was a Sedge Warbler and we had a second one later in the evening.

As well as the usual Swallow soundtrack playing Colin also used a Pied Wagtail soundtrack as well as there has been an increase of Pied/White Wagtails on the islands over the last week and we had seen a number flying around the loch area. We saw quite a few of them flying over and dropping down into the reed bed but only managed to catch four.

One of the wagtails was an adult male who was moulting some of its primary and greater covert feathers. This gave Stan and myself a chance to practice our moult scoring. One of the other birds created some good discussion on ageing as it looked like a youngster but it had already moulted some of its greater covert feathers but not its primary feathers. Also some of its tail feathers had been replaced. As these two birds had been caught at the same time we were able to look at both birds together for comparison.

Total birds caught this session was 21 birds comprising 4 Pied Wagtails, 2 Sedge Warblers and 15 Swallows.

14 August 2013

It started with a text

Last Sunday I was heading South with Claire on my latest work trip.

We had just set off from our friend's house near Lanark after stopping off for a chat and lunch when I got a text message from Seumus. I pulled over thinking it may be to do with some ringing on the Sunday evening and asking if I was interested. However when I pulled into the next lay-by to check the message I was in for a surprise.

It was a short message which simply said 'Have you ringed Barn Owl Dave?'

Wow, that wasn't the sort of message I was expecting. My reply was also short and simple - 'No. Are you offering?'

A couple of minutes later and the mobile rang and it was Seumus. After a quick conversation a get together had been arranged for tonight at 7pm.

So bang on 7pm Claire and myself arrived at the farm near Garstang where the Barn Owl nest box was located. After being introduced to Robert the farmer and Huw, a fellow trainee ringer, we all went to the barn where the nest box was located.

Diana, Robert's wife arrived just in time to see the chicks.

Robert and Seumus went up into the higher level of the barn to see how many owl chicks were in the box. A few minutes later they were back down with two chicks. One each for Huw and me to ring and a new species for both of us.

Last year Seumus ringed some Barn owl chicks from the same box, but they were done back in June, so this year's brood are somewhat later. Both birds looked in good health and were fairly well developed with the instantly recognizable facial features.

Me and one of the Barn Owl chicks
It won't be long before this one will be flying
With both birds ringed I got the opportunity to put the chicks back into the nest box, which was a strong contender for the smelliest nest!!

Thanks to Seumus for giving me the heads up and a big thank you to Robert and Diana for making us welcome on their farm and for the brew and biscuits afterwards.

10 August 2013

Another stormy night (9/10 Aug)

Last night saw Colin, Stan and myself meet up at the Deernes site again for another Storm Petrel ringing session.
We met up just before midnight and we quickly had the net setup and were ready to see what happened this time.

As before, we didn't have to wait long as just after midnight we had our first five birds of the session. Most net rounds produced more birds but a couple presented us with an empty net. The highest catch was six birds about an hour after we started.

Just before 3am the sky was starting to get light so we decided to wrap up for the session.
In total we caught 30 birds this time round, 29 new ones and 1 control. So that is 50 birds in total from two sessions.

9 August 2013

A stormy night

Last Sunday evening/early Monday morning (4/5 Aug) in light of the few Storm Petrels we had caught so far, we decided to try out a new site on the East side of South Ronaldsay to see if we could do any better.

The short answer was 'No'. We didn't manage to catch a single bird, which was quite disappointing especially when we found out that Al had caught 56 birds at his site near Birsay in the NW corner of West Mainland the same evening.

On a positive note we did get to see an aurora, the first of the autumn/winter season and quite a few shooting stars.

So on Wednesday evening (7 Aug) Colin decided that he was going to give it a go from a site in Deerness that had been a good spot in previous years.

Stan and I met up with him and just before midnight we had the net setup and were ready to see what happened.

We didn't have to wait long as just after midnight we had our first two birds. Each net round produced more birds. By 2am things were starting to slow down and the final net round was an empty net so we decided to wrap up for the session.

In total we caught 20 birds, 19 new ones and 1 control.

Storm Petrel
After a productive session we are going to give it another go on at our South Ronaldsay sites, so watch this space to see how we get on.

Reed bed session 6 Aug

We had another session in the reed bed this evening with Colin, Stan and myself making up the team.

Tonight we caught 100 birds comprising 1 Linnet, 2 Reed Buntings, 1 Sand Martin, 10 Sedge Warblers, 4 Starlings and 82 Swallows.

This was the first time that we had caught a Linnet in the reed bed.

I was expecting to find a few more Starlings in the nets as there was quite a large flock moving around the reed bed and quite a few were seen perching on the tops of the nets and their support poles!!

Totals caught this season so far:

Blackbird                1
Linnet                    1

Pied Wagtail           1
Reed Bunting        15
Sand Martin            3
Sedge Warbler      69
Starling                 5
Swallow             203

Follow up note:

The following day there was a flock of 50-60 Starlings (mainly juveniles) bathing and drinking in my new pond. One of the juveniles was ringed. I'm not aware that anyone else from the ringing group in my area that has ringed any young Starlings so it is highly likely that this bird was one of the five that were ringed at our reed bed site which is only about 6km away.

4 August 2013

It's Fulmar time

Well it is that time of the year again when the Orkney Ringing Group goes across to the uninhabited island of Swona to ring the Fulmar chicks. This year's team was made up of Colin, Andy, Davey, Brian, Lorna, Stan, Gavin, Derren, Joan and myself.

Having missed last year's trip due to work commitments I was looking forward to going back out, however there was a slight nervousness about setting foot back on Swona as that was were I slipped and broke my leg back in 2012 preventing me from doing the Fulmar chick ringing session that year too.

The journey across was on a different boat to the one we usually use. It had a bit more speed to it, although it wasn't the smoothest of crossings and the trip was a bit like a fairground ride with all the rolling about.

There were plenty of Puffins out on the sea as we approached Swona but the cliffs were looking a bit devoid of Fulmars.

Once we were all on the island, we split into three teams: Colin, Gavin and Stan in the first team, Davey, Brian and Derren in the second and Andy, Lorna, Joan and myself in the third.

My team started at the landing point and we worked our way anti-clockwise around the North end of the island and down the West side to meet up with Colin's team who had gone down to the Southern end of the island and were going to work their way around to and up the West side.

Davey's team went down to the Southern end and worked their way around to the East side and back up to the landing point.

As well as ringing Fulmars, Colin's team also manged to ring 9 Black Guillemot chicks and Davey's team did a single Black Guillemot and 2 Puffins.

While heading back to the landing point Gavin found a Great Skua (Bonxie) chick which was ringed by Stan.

Great Skua chick

The lack of many visible Fulmars on our approach to the island did not turn into a low number of birds to ring as we managed to ring 262 Fulmars in total consisting of 260 chicks and 2 adults. There was also a breeding adult retrapped, which was originally ringed as a chick back in 2009. This was a very interesting retrap as a lot of the information on Fulmars indicates that the birds are usually 8 to 9 years old before they start breeding. So at only 4 years of age this bird appears to be an early starter.

This raises the question as to whether this is a one off  or more common than the documented evidence suggests. Perhaps this could be an interesting project for the ringing group in the future!!

Not all Fulmars nest on cliffs

Some nests are a bit harder to find than others

Lorna ringing one of the chicks
 Also of note, but not caught and ringed was a young Willow Warbler flitting about in one of the ruined buildings and a number of Snipe that were flushed from the ground but no nests were found.

Returning to the boat after a successful day

Reed bed session 31 Jul

We had another session in the reed bed this evening with Colin, Brian, Stan and myself making up the team.

Tonight we caught 56 birds comprising 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 Reed Bunting, 14 Sedge Warblers and 40 Swallows. Two of the Sedge Warblers were retraps and the Pied Wagtail, was a new species for this season.

Adult Pied Wagtail
The Pied Wagtail was an adult bird and was in the process of moulting the primary wing feathers as can be seen in the photo below.

Primary wing feathers being moulted.

Totals caught this season so far:
Blackbird               1
Pied Wagtail           1

Reed Bunting        13
Sand Martin           2
Sedge Warbler      59
Starling                 1
Swallow             121

Following the reed bed session Stan and myself went to the Storm Petrel site and met up with Andy for another session following on from our small catch the other night. However we were only able to add another bird to our totals.

The ringing site up over on West Mainland is being far more productive at the moment so I think we will be looking for another site to try.