Monday, 2 July 2012

Colour-ringing young gulls

A mini-expedition with the Tay Ringing Group

Every year the Tay Ringing Group ring gull chicks at the mixed Herring/Lesser Black-backed/Great Black-backed colony on St Serf's Island in Loch Leven in Central Scotland. Long-term monitoring of the birds in this way is a valuable tool in understanding the movements and life histories of these birds, one of which, the Herring Gull, is now Red-listed in the UK although its status worldwide and throughout Europe remains secure.

Gull colonies are chaotic, noisy and odoriferous places at the best of times and disturbance of any kind really ups the activity levels. Because of this ringers limit our visits to relatively short time spells so that disturbance is kept to a minimum and chicks are not left on their own for very long. We have permission to ring birds at this colony from SNH as part of a long-term monitoring project.
One anti-predator strategy by the chicks is to stay concealed under grass tussocks and once  I knew where to look, picking them up was quite easy. Each chick was taken back to the ringing site which was always close by so the chicks could be released near where we found them. Once in the queue waiting to be ringed the chicks relaxed, especially if placed on the ground and were very easy to manage. Only occasionally would one get up and make a run for it! 

So quickly a production circle was set up with metal rings, then Darvics (the individually marked plastic colour rings) dished out to the ringers once the birds had been identified. Young gulls can be a bit difficult despite the manuals giving clear illustrations of how this is done. Some birds just don't read manuals and can't be positively identified. In these cases the birds are released unringed - the golden rule - if you can't identify it - don't ring it! Everything is meticulously logged so that we know which bird is which and a big thanks to Julie for doing all the scribing!
So why put the colour rings on? Ringing recoveries are few and far between and often involve the bird having come to a sticky end. With individually marked colour rings the birds can simply be observed through binoculars or scopes or, in the case of gulls, whilst they are trying to steal your fish-and-chips, and the number and colour of ring sent in through the BTO website (link below). Advances in digital photography have enabled lots of birds to be photographed with colour-rings easily read and then submitted as recoveries. Each ring is unique and immediately identifies the bird.

So once they have both rings on they are ready to go. Maybe someone will see T:00C somewhere during the rest of its life and let us know what it's up to and where it is.
It was a great privilege to have been part of the team and I had a magnificent day. Hopefully to return and do a few more again next year.

Some links

Report a ringed bird through the BTO website - there is a purple button on the right

BTO Bird Facts - the Herring Gull

Tay Ringing Group

Monday, 11 June 2012

South of the Forth on Saturday

Well we had a bit of a break in the weather on Saturday although it was quite breezy. I took myself off to a couple of my favourite haunts on the south side of the river, Kinneil Lagoons and South Alloa.

Kinneil Lagoons
Nothing much on the sea, the lagoons and the mudflats so I decided to explore the scrub and stands of willow/birch on the south side of the lagoons. I'd walked past this area before but I'd never actually been into that woodland to see what is there. On Saturday - I have to say there was nothing much in the woodland, just the odd Chaffinch and tit flock but the margins were quite interesting. First up Sedge Warbler - one of my favourite warblers - they are so noisy and full of themselves, climbing up reed stems to announce to the world that they are the best male sedgie in the district and will you look AND listen to ME!

There were quite a lot of them all signing away - cackling, scratchy trills and warbles throughout the reeds and nettles - they seem to like nettles.

I walked/scrambled my way up and through the scrub to the south of the reeds and in the first bramble patch a movement caught my eye - Gropper! Grasshopper Warbler. Very quietly I set up the camera and waited - and waited - and waited to see if it would pop out again but apart from some furtive movement in an elder behind the brambles, that was the only good glimpse I got of it. However, he/she was not alone, and I soon heard one reeling in the nettles below me and during my walk round there saw glimpses of another couple but all very camera shy. Maybe next time.

Walking back to the car along the road some scolding from another bramble patch on the bank and some more furtive movement at the base. Patience paid off this time and this peeked out of the vegetation.

After quite a long wait eventually it popped into view and was joined by its mate - Common Whitethroats - obviously with some hungry mouths nearby, but I managed to get quite a good shot before I left them in peace to feed their young.

So - not a bad day, despite few of the waders, ducks, gulls, etc., for which one normally goes to Kinneil.

South Alloa
Not a place I go to regularly except in the winter when there are stacks of geese in the fields nearby - this winter hosting a flock of European White-front which was quite unusual. However, in front of the houses and between them and the river is a patch of scrub and gorse which at present is quite productive. Lots of Whitethroat, House and Tree Sparrows, Willow Warblers and Dunnock all singing away in the only sunshine of the day. But one of Saturday's poseurs was this magnificent male Yellowhammer. He had been calling since I got there and eventually he flew right into camera range, bless him!

So a good day out. Sunday was ringing at the Constant Effort Site at Edinburgh Airport. Nothing much to report there apart from the rather dismal weather (cold, damp and dull) and few birds but brightened up by the company and catching up with some ringers I had not seen for a while and some excellent lemon drizzle sponge - nyum, nyum - thanks, Martin!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ringing Demo at Lionthorn Community Woodland

Went and helped Phil May out with a ringing Demo at a fun day they were having at this woodland near Falkirk - organised by Falkirk Council.

We put a couple of nets up near some feeders that the rangers had been keeping topped up during the week. Our backs were hardly turned when the first bird was in - a retrapped Coal Tit. Phil had ringed here before.

That set the day up and we had a steady trickle of birds throughout the day to keep people interested. Mainly kids came but they brought their parents in and it is fantastic the enthusiasm (sometimes over-enthusiasm) of the kids when they see birds in the hand, up close.

We had a good suite of species, mostly typical of a patch of mixed woodland, Great and Coal Tits, Siskin, Chaffinch but also a couple of migrants, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Whitethroat and Blackcap were singing away close by but declined to come into the nets.

The major surprise of the day was this fella:-

Much excitement until we realised that neither of us had any B+ rings. Plenty of B's but Crossbills take B+, made of steel, so they can't remove them. So all the bird got was his photo taken and a mental note to oneself to order some B+'s and NOT get caught short again.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Well now, what's all this then? Starting a blog is a huge leap into the unknown for me but we'll give it a go.

My blog will mainly be about me, my photographs and almost entirely about my life where it has touched on birds - which is most of it! I'm a birder and have been for close on sixty years - my Mum says I used to be fascinated by birds in my pram and I evidently used to watch their movements whilst flat on my back. I still do this, but generally now in the upright position.

I've been lucky - born and brought up in Scotland I moved to Africa in 1975 - specifically Rhodesia, and I stayed there for thirty years, through war, independence, the good times, gradually falling into decay, corruption and violence under Mugabe until, after a horrendous night when we were attacked in our home, a fabulous country suddenly lost it's charm and we returned to Scotland. I went out to Africa with one husband, Duncan, but that was not to last, and came back to Scotland with another, Barry, to whom I've been married for 15 years.

We were lucky to live out in the bush, just outside Harare, and a regular daily bird list of about 50 species in the garden and surrounds was lovely. We put in a lot of visits to the Zambezi valley at Chirundu, the Eastern Highlands at Troutbeck and Nyanga.

We came back to Scotland in 2005 to live in Kincardine-on-Forth in the central belt and I was so lucky to get a job with the British Trust for Ornithology at their Scottish office based at Stirling University. I participate in several BTO bird surveys - the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and I regularly put my records into BirdTrack, the online bird recording facility. I have also been training as a bird ringer and gained my 'C' permit in January 2012.

So, that's my potted life history so let's see how this blog goes