14 April 2018

Any excuse for a paddle

This morning a couple of us took to the opportunity for a paddle out to check out the Kittiwakes at Trewavas Head. Leaving from Porthleven, the swellier-than-predicted swell made things a little slow going and we were also unable to safely put the kayak in at the engine houses, so had to make do with a visit to just the main headland colony.

With only around 60 birds there at any time, numbers were down on previous years, but the to-ing and fro-ing of birds mean that we were able to record 19 colour-ringed birds as part of our RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) project. The 19 included 17 of our own birds and two French birds that are now regular breeders here. One of 'our' birds was originally ringed as a chick on Gugh, Isles of Scilly, in 1996, having a colour ring added by us in 2015. So at 22 years old this is our oldest bird in the project.

The pic above shows two of the other more interesting birds. AP is a bird we ringed as an adult at Rinsey Cliffs in 2012, remaining there until 2014 when the colony there effectively collapsed. It was one of the few birds that relocated to Trewavas Head, seen just once in 2016 and 2017. The rather more colourful bird was ringed as a chick in 2007 at Pointe du Raz, Brittany, France. It was seen in France in 2009 and 2010, then at Rinsey in 2012 and 2013, before moving to Trewavas Head from 2015 onwards.

Of the other birds, two had also been seen on their coastal wanderings, with one photographed at sea off Longstones Lighthouse in July 2014 and another seen at Gwennap Head in August 2017.

7 April 2018

Russian-ringed Siskin visits Penryn!

It's been a while since we've blogged, but with incessant poor weather and a late breeding/migration season we've really not been up to much! But some regular ringing did pay off recently, as Robbie Phillips relates:

"After ringing on the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus for the last four years it’s always nice to have a new species for the site, so to catch three iskin midweek was a highlight. We were out again last weekend when a ringed Siskin was found in the net and I just expected it to be one from earlier in the week, so it was a shock to find that it wasn’t. Even more surprising was that it was carrying a foreign ring, and from Russia!! Where abouts in Russia the bird, aged as an adult female, had come from we thought would take some time to find out. For my first foreign control, I couldn’t have asked for more, well worth the years of visits and hundreds of Blue Tits."

Incredibly, just 10 days after catching this bird, we heard news from the Russian Ringing Scheme. 'Our' Siskin had been ringed as second-year female in April 2017 at Rybachiy in the eastern Baltic, over 1800km from Penryn. It had presumably been ringed on spring migration, so may well have bred even  further east than Rybachiy! There have been fewer than 20 Russian-ringed Siskin found in the UK, but this is also the first ever foreign-ringed Siskin to be found in Cornwall.

22 February 2018

Spring is in the air

It hasn't really felt like spring the last couple of mornings, with frosty cars and freezing cold metal poles! But once the sun was up, Dunnocks and Chiffchaffs were singing and Goldcrests displaying to each other at the sewage works, so things are definitely getting going.

But there's still plenty of signs of winter around, with this rather subtle Siberian Chiffchaff one of the last birds ringed this morning at Carnon Downs STW. It showed quite a lot of green tones to the upperparts and tail, but was nice and plain underneath and also had the distinctive long supercilium we see of some Sibe Chiffs. There was also a remaining Yellow-browed Warbler, but even this was darting round wing-fluttering at a Goldcrest!

In fact the last bird of the morning could be a sign of winter of a sign of spring, as this male Blackcap could wel be a wintering bird, but the fact it had a good amount of pollen on its forehead might indicate it was travelled from points south recently. We did look around for any pollinating trees nearby but even the local catkins weren't producing much pollen yet.

But the fact that we only caught three Chiffchaffs at Carnon Downs STW this morning and just one at Gwennap STW yesterday is perhaps a sign that birds have already started to move north, or at least have other things on their mind...

15 January 2018

Wandering Peregrine

It's not often we get the chance to read colour-rings on Peregrines outside of the breeding season, as birds are often hard to pin down to a single location to read the ring. But with a few local photographers becoming more aware of the various colour-ringing projects we run, the chances of reading rings on fly-by birds is increasing.

But it was a member of the ringing group who photographed a passing Peregrine near Predannack Airfield yesterday, only to find it was wearing a yellow colour-ring.

The group has been using yellow colour rings on Peregrines for several years now, so we presumed it was a local bird, but it was a surprise to find it was actually ringed as a chick in north Cornwall in 2016. We've had a few long-distance movements before of our own birds, but it's always nice to have a surprise like this. Thanks to Tony Blunden for the photo and Tony John for confirming the details for the bird.

7 January 2018

Returning Sibe Chiff kicks off 2018

In the first mist-netting venture of the year, it only seemed right to head to the sewage works. So just two of us braved the early morning frost to get a few nets up at Gwennap Sewage Works. It took a while for the sun to stir up the insects enough to get birds moving, but once they did (and with the addition of a 'sewage mix' on the MP3) we didn't do too bad, ending up with 62 birds.

The total included 23 Chiffchaffs, two of which were Siberian 'tristis' Chiffchaffs. Interestingly, one of these was already carrying a ring, having been ringed at Gwennap in December 2016. This is only the second time we've recaught a tristis in a subsequent winter, adding to the evidence that these are returning wintering birds, not lost vagrants.

Of just as much interest was the recapture of the bird below, originally ringed in September 2016 in North Norfolk! This was presumably a recent autumn arrival in Norfolk when ringed, so was presumably from points north/east.

Just to round off the day nicely, and very typical of this autumn/winter, we ringed an impressive NINE Firecrest, which is a good winter total, never mind from one morning.

29 December 2017

First Chiffchaffs of the winter

Mist-netting has been a bit slow of late, but with the weather finally turning cold and the wind amazingly light we took the opportunity to make our first visit to the local sewage works. First stop was Gwennap, where as many as 65 Chiffchaffs were feeding in low hedges and bushes around the site, so with just two nets we were able to catch 35 birds, including a single 'tristis' bird and also two birds ringed last winter (both on 5th January). We only caught five adults, so two ringed was a reasonable ratio!

Next stop was Carnon Downs, where there were fewer Chiffchaffs (perhaps just 25), but they were all now in the tops of the trees in the warmer afternoon, so we only caught a single bird. But we did see another 'tristis' bird and also a ringed bird, so we'll be back again as soon as the wind and weather are favourable.

Apologies for the lack of photos, but we were a bit busy ringing birds to take photos...

14 November 2017

Lost Greenland White-front reunited with family

White-fronted Goose isn't the commonest bird in Cornwall, so Alan James was happy enough to find and photograph one on 1st November at Marazion Marsh. This was no ordinary bird though as it was carrying an orange neck collar and also a data logger.

Having spotted this we quickly emailed Tony Fox who was almost certainly responsible in some way for this bird. Thanks to Tony for the very quick response, which is summarised here.

Orange V3Y was a Greenland White-fronted Goose ringed at a place called Hvanneyri in west Iceland on 23rd September 2017 and was fitted with a GPS logging device and solar cell. Whilst at Hvanneyri it associated with CDZ (a juvenile male), another adult female fitted with a GPS logger and an unringed adult (probably male) that evaded capture. This small social group moved to a farm called Leirulækjarsel in Mýrar on 25th September where they remained until they departed.

The team don't have online access to live tracking data from V3Y, but the other GPS-tagged bird left Leirulækjarsel at around midday on 28th October en route to its wintering grounds in southern Ireland. What happened next is pretty amazing, because it made southern Ireland safely on its way south no problems, passing over Co Waterford at 4:30am on 29th October but seemed to not realise it was so close to Wexford! It continued southwards for some reason, eventually doing a tour of the Channel Islands and Brest in Brittany before turning back north, reaching Tacumshin in Co Wexford at 5:30am on 30th October. It rested only briefly before continuing north to Wexford Slobs, arriving at 7:20am the same day.

The GPS track of one (or all?) of the social group, all in under two days!
Without its own tracking data, the best guess is that V3Y followed a similar route for the majority of the journey, but got separated from the flock before turning up at Marazion Marsh on 1st November. But the story does have a happy ending, as John Wilson (who started the tracking project of Greenland White-fronted Geese back in 1983, resighted the whole social group (CDZ, V3Y, the GPS-logged bird and the unringed adult) at Wexford North Slob on 8th November. So despite an impromptu stop-off in Cornwall, V3Y found her way home eventually and rejoined her family!

**UPDATE** Thanks to Reuben Veal for adding to the story, as the bird he reported from St Gothian Sands on 5th November was V3Y, adding extra detail to this fascinating story!

Many thanks to Alan for allowing us to use his photo and to Tony for the rapid reply and very comprehensive history of this social group.

9 October 2017

Mixed fortunes for Cornish Barn Owls in 2017

Just before we get carried away with ringing autumn migrants, it's a good time to have a look back at the 2017 Barn Owl season. With extra project funding coming in and new boxes located and/or erected it's been a busy summer!

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Sites visited 32 34 32 44 41 47 64
Unoccupied 2
Occupied but no breeding 13
Average clutch size
(where observed)
4.8 4.1 3.6 4.6 4.6 4.6 5.3
Average brood size
(where observed)
3.1 3.1 2.4 3.5 3.5 2.8 3.0
Number of chicks ringed 33 46 19 63 70 47 90

With so many new boxes put up in recent years (thanks to generous funding from Paradise Park), it's perhaps not surprising that the apparent occupancy rate was slightly down in 2017, but this will no doubt improve over time as birds move into some of the newer boxes. The relatively dry spring would have been quite good for rodent numbers, but it was still surprising to find so many large clutches, with an average of 5.3 being the highest we've seen since we started monitoring in 2011.

However, as the weather deteriorated into the summer, we weren't expecting quite such large clutches and this proved to be true, Most sites saw quite significant brood reduction, though the average brood size of 3.1 was still pretty good given the conditions. After the four complete failures in 2016, we only saw two this year which is more normal. We also some failures just after fledging, with two chicks from one brood found dead in surrounding fields soon after fledging, and two chicks from another found dead in a water trough a month after fledging.

But the total of 90 chicks ringed was also our highest to date and hopefully we'll break the 100 barrier next year. As far as adults go, we retrapped several adults, including one male that has now been in the same box since 2011. We also retrapped an adult originally ringed at a site in 2015 (where it raised three chicks), then found in a box just over a kilometre away in 2016 (didn't breed), but then back in it's original site for 2017, but still not breeding. It'll be interesting to see if it breeds next year, and if so where.

22 September 2017

Scottish Osprey drops into Devoran

Late summer and early autumn sees small numbers of Osprey staging in Cornwall on their southbound journey to west Africa. The wooded creeks and rivers that feed into Carrick Roads seem to be particularly favourable. Devoran Creek has had two individuals for the last few weeks and one of these juvenile birds was sporting a coded blue ring on the left leg. This instantly identified it as a Scottish bird as birds originating in England and Wales receive a colour ring on the right leg. Despite being quite showy the bird typically remained just out of range to read the ring, but with persistent observation and some digiscoping the ring was finally read as JF1.

This bird was ringed as a chick on 13th July this year near Monymusk, Aberdeenshire, by Grampian Ringing Group; one of a brood of three. On size, it was deemed likely to be a male and this is the first confirmed sighting of JF1 since leaving the nest.

JF1 in the nest just after ringing

With various Ospreys being seen elsewhere in the county it is very much worth looking out for these impressive birds and, if you’ve got your eye in, reading a colour ring! Thanks to Greg Wills for the words and pictures and Ewan Weston for the photo of JF1 in the nest.

9 September 2017

Curlew mystery solved

Thanks to Greg Wills for penning this post about his persistence in tracking down a mystery colour-ringed Curlew:

High tide roosts provide a perfect opportunity to pick through wader flocks for more unusual species and colour-ringed individuals. Gorrangorras Creek, adjoining Penryn River, plays host to one such roost, where birds gather on one of the few shingle banks waiting for the tide to retreat. The gathering typically holds good numbers of curlews and on 18th August a quick scan revealed a bird sporting a yellow colour ring. Due to worsening light, the complete code couldn't be determined and so a nervous wait took place hoping the bird would be present the next day in order to reveal the story the rings had to tell.

The following day after a brief walk further along the river, the flock was once again present; this time with distance and light on our side. The single ring instead revealed itself as a four-ring combination, all on the tibia.

Now the puzzle really began! The two lower rings were obviously metal and yellow, though the upper rings seemed off-white, something that needs to be checked with some scrutiny with light blue and light green (lime) rings all used regularly in schemes. And so ensued much deliberation between the observers, forum conversations and Curlew ringers across Europe. After much to-ing and fro-ing, the identity was confirmed as being an adult female ringed light blue/yellow, light blue/metal, ringed on its breeding grounds near Ladbergen, Steinfurt, Germany on 18th May 2012. She has returned to the same breeding area every year until 2017.

This isn't the first German-ringed Curlew to be found in Cornwall, with a bird from the same scheme Red/Metal, Red/Green seen at Rosemullion in August 2014. There was also a 25-year-old German-ringed bird killed by a bird of prey at Gwithian, a 20-year-old bird found dead near St Mawes and an 18-year-old bird hit by a car near Carnon Downs.

Thank you to Gerrit Gerritsen and Christian Kipp for their assistance in confirming the identity. Christian’s father Manfred has ringed round about 3,000 Curlews in Germany and between them they have resighted 160 colour-ringed birds in their breeding areas, most of them in Steinfurt.